I never intended to blog about this, but it’s something that bothered me yesterday and I’m still thinking about it. We are all a slave to our devices at various points of the day for business and personal, but this was an interesting experience, and it made me more conscious of when I lift up for air. Grab your coffee.
Yesterday I met up with a social media friend after we finally established a day that worked for both of us to get together in person. I suggested a local coffee shop because of its central location and its ambiance, and we agreed to meet during the afternoon. I walked in about 20 minutes earlier so I could send a couple of emails and get us a good seat. Well, how about, when I walked in, every single seat was taken. Not by people who were having conversations, or meetings, but by people who had their laptops open, earbuds in, and heads down except to see who just walked in.
Every single table, sprawling to the back. Except for one two-top that was wedged between workers. The space was quiet and awkward. An army of chrome Macbooks paired with a notebook and pen. This was not the ambiance I had in mind.
I ordered my drink and as I was getting rung up, I asked, “Are these people in a class together?” The woman helping me said, “No, they’re just working. But… yes, it does look that way…doesn’t it?” I told her I was meeting a friend and asked if there was more seating anywhere and she said there was an outdoor space, and apologized. I thanked her and went to check the outdoor space out, passing more Macbook army members on my way out to the patio who looked like they hadn’t lifted up for air in a while. I sat for a second in the damp space (rain, rain, go away) and was fine for a second, but I felt so isolated and cold. I gave myself a pep talk a few minutes later to go back in there and hope that little table was still available.
After I squeezed myself into my table to enjoy my cup of tea before my friend arrived, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was the clearly the oddball. After I posted a photo on Facebook about this experience, I put my phone down, and sat there and enjoyed my tea. But I didn’t enjoy it because I felt like I was interrupting something. Once my friend arrived, we got lost in conversation and it became a moot point for the time being.
But I have to say, we were the only people talking. No one else had moved from their posts, and people who walked in, got their coffee to go.
I need to make this clear, I’m not here bashing this business at all. The staff is nice and they have always treated me with respect. What concerns me are the people, number one, for taking advantage of a good thing and two, people not engaging with one another. And this is not the only coffee shop in town that suffers this problem, it was just the only time it stopped me in my tracks.
The quintessential coffee shop experience is fading away. There is a long history of coffee houses, but they’ve always held a social aspect and became a meeting place as much as a pub or bar would be. I would be a hypocrite to say I’ve never worked in a coffee shop. It’s actually a great place for me to get inspiration. Want to know why? Because of the people coming in, and that ambient loud chatter that is happening around me. Seeing people I know walk in. Even meeting new ones. That fuels me more than the actual drink. But, maybe I’m a little more conscious of my presence than others. I never overstay my welcome, and if I do, I give the baristas a more generous tip. If only this were a passion of mine, I’d create a coffee shop coworking space. Not a coworking space in the back of a coffee shop, but one that is set up like the real thing, where you rent a desk by the hour, or the day, with space always being reserved for those who just want to meet, or simply want to enjoy a cup of tea alone.
What am I trying to accomplish through this post? Being mindful of a few things.
Coffee shops and other establishments do not have to give you wifi. It’s a courtesy they extend to you. As someone who’s traveled internationally, I’ve found it’s especially helpful when trying to keep my phone bill down, but I park for a little, then get my ass up.
If you aren’t going to pay the $20 day rate at a coworking space, or a monthly membership, don’t just squat with one latte for hours on end. Every now and then, buy a bag of coffee, or other items, or even leave your baristas a couple of extra bucks. Buy gift cards to give to your friends and clients. It’s a token of appreciation, especially if you frequent the same place over and over again. If your budget doesn’t allow it, consider rotating many different shops, or telling people how much you love a certain place. Think of yourself as a club promoter.
That’s about all of the interaction I had with someone yesterday. We are not robots. And I’m telling myself this as I type, too. Human interaction is something so precious, yet something we all take for granted. It’s more than an app or a social media network. It’s body language. It’s talking. It’s laughter. Don’t feel like talking? Don’t talk. But realize you are in a place of business, not a public space like a park.
Above all, don’t forget to lift up for air.
Photo of TLG by En Pointe Photography
So true. Thanks for the reminder. I remember a gathering of friends at my place where I asked them all to place their cell phones in a basket to be left by the door. Most looked at me like I had lost my mind. But I insisted. And we had a GREAT time with each other.
And I’ll admit, I have to remind myself to put my phone on vibrate and in my purse when I am hanging out with friends. It is wonderful what we enjoy when we lift up for air.
I just had a very similar experience while in San Diego over the holidays. I met up with a friend at a local coffee shop, when we walked in it was pretty quiet with most tables taken by people who were working on their computers. We sat down and started talking, but it felt awkward at first because besides some background music we were the only ones talking. I almost felt like I was interrupting. Next to our two top was a communal/family table with benches and it would probably fit 6 people. A woman sat there. It as soon as a two top further away from me and my friend opened up she moved away from us. When I left I couldn’t help but think that is was weird that coffee shops have become more like a library than a social meet up location.
Thank you for this. We all need a reminder.
Valid points!! I find myself craving a conversation these days where the other person isn’t staring at a device…