I knew that the day would come eventually. It came much sooner than I thought, and has taken me by surprise.
It was the day when we filled up with laptop users, and became just another wifi shack, at least for a couple hours.
It happened this past weekend. And led me to losing many hours of sleep, trying to figure out how to handle the situation.
I was serious when I wrote our manifesto, and our tagline (‘not just another wifi shack’). I didn’t want this place to become just another Cafe full of people a couple feet from each other but so absorbed with their gadgets that they did not interact. To that end, I made a lot of design decisions – I made all our seating communal, I didn’t go out of my way to install laptop power, I make sure the music is a bit livelier and louder than in most places. And I hoped that our mission would resonate with people and that behavior might be different here.
When I walked out into our dining room last week, and saw a sea of laptops, with tangles of power cords everywhere, and so many people wearing headphones, it really upset me. And so I set out to figure out what was so upsetting, and why.
And here’s the thing I got to, after much agonizing – community doesn’t come for free. We must each support it as individuals. And that means that I have the right to ask you – our customers – to help us make the Cafe a place that’s a bit different. There are plenty of places in the area which are full of laptop users, and where such behavior is welcome (or at least tolerated).
There are financial reasons for wanting to limit the time that folks spend in seats, and they’re important. What most people don’t realize is that the margin of a business like this is razor-thin, and that we make most of our money during our peak times. If we lose money because all or most of our seats are taken by people who spend little money and much time, our business is at risk. Cafes fail all the time. When that happens, we all lose.
But this isn’t the most important thing. It’s more important to me that we re-discover the social webs that used to tie us together. Ennui, depression, boredom, and desperation are the result of long-term isolative behavior. We’re about love, hope, discovery, creativity, and looking each other in the eye.
And so, we’re embarking on an experiment. For the month of February, our weekends will be laptop-free. This may anger some. It’s a risky thing for a brand-new business to do.
But it’s so important, I can’t not do it.
If it goes well, we’ll make it a permanent feature of the Cafe. If not, we’ll try something else. I’m open to suggestions that lead to the desired result.
If you haven’t already seen it, you might be interested to read dialog I had with facebook fans several months before the Cafe opened, on this very topic (http://www.facebook.com/pages/Oakland-CA/Actual-Cafe/63896313499?v=app_2373072738&ref=ts#/topic.php?uid=63896313499&topic=11411). It wasn’t conclusive, and this isn’t either. We’re just trying to make our way in a cold world.
(wish us luck!)
[note: Older posts here (pre-April 2012) are copies of the originals at our old blog at blogspot. We won't be taking the old site down, but we won't be updating it either. We copied the posts to this new site so that users can see highlights from our past while we continue to evolve and write about it. We didn't copy everything from the old blog, but you're always free to hop over and check it out for yourself.]