November 24, 2016

Coffee shops losing interest in wifi

Guardian, UK -  Cafe owners are hiding plug sockets, disconnecting their routers or ditching desk-style seating to stop their businesses being overrun by the familiar army of MacBook-clutching freelancers, scanning the floor for somewhere to plug in. Pour one out for smug workdays fueled by free internet, siphoned electricity and complimentary cucumber water – the jig may be up for the [British] Wi-Fi rustlers.

“Ultimately, coffee shops are social environments,” explains Jack Hesketh, owner of Store Street Espresso, which limits Wi-Fi in its two London outlets and has blocked the sockets in its Bloomsbury branch. “We were finding that you’d go into the cafe and it would be 15 people sat at 15 different tables and you could hear a pin drop.” Fighting this mausoleum vibe – as much as the chancers who make a mint tea last all afternoon – seems to be the prime motivation of a lot of the proprietors making a stand.

And sometimes the laptop brigade kill the mood in other ways. “The thing I hate the most is the people who come in and unplug lamps to charge up their laptops,” says Liam Casey, owner of the Pacific Social Club in east London, where laptop and tablet users are exiled to a back room. It’s not just the lone nomads either. “People use cafes for business meetings, which is fine,” says Casey. “But if I’m hungover and just want a breakfast, I don’t really want to get drawn into somebody’s professional networking.”

London, with its high density of students and transient workers, is a key battleground in this conflict. But establishments in places including Vermont, Copenhagen and even tech capital San Francisco have imposed similar bans, hoping to make a clear distinction between themselves and the startup-friendly “creative hubs” that loudly tout the speediness of their broadband.

So, do customers get indignant or angry when they’re told the unthinkable? “We’ve had a few people storming out and some negative things posted online,” says Casey. “But it’s generally positive.” Hesketh agrees that people are “super understanding” about their digital blackout. Perhaps this is a new age. Perhaps people truly have had enough of work encroaching on notionally social spaces. Either that or they have found that spot by the window where you can serviceably nick Wi-Fi from the train station.

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