What a day.
We had an incredible response to our laptop-free weekend experiment. Not everything went perfectly, but a lot went really well, and I’m excited about what comes next.
First of all, we had a really great first Friday party last night – a great turnout of neighborhood folks, photographers, musicians, cyclists, and other art murmurers. Great DJs, great accordion, great sewing, great photographs. I’m so excited to see that we *can* throw a party on San Pablo, and people *will* come. I’m really looking forward to next month’s party and show – it’s going to be a special one, I think. Stay tuned for more on that.
And then today. I walked into the Cafe this morning, and found a copy of today’s Chronicle, which had a story about us on the front page. Big pictures, and really interesting. The reporter talked about how our laptopless weekends echo the idea of the jewish sabbath, and of leaving work behind for one day a week. She also said that we’re revolutionary, which I’m not sure I agree with. But anyway…
That story led to all sorts of other press – I was interviewed for two different TV news shows and one radio show today, and I have another radio interview in the morning. Clearly, we’ve hit on something. People are really interested in the problem of ubiquitous technology, and the adverse effects it’s having on our human lives.
And, of course, we had lots of new visitors today. Customers who drove from other cities to come see the freaky cafe with no laptops. A lot of them expressed their support and excitement. Which was nice.
I had one interesting conversation with a couple who was leaving after they had finished their meal/snack/coffee…I asked how everything was, and they came back to the counter and said, “it was a bit quiet – we thought there’d be more conversation.” They went on to say that they wanted to talk to people in the Cafe, but they were shy, and didn’t quite know how. Which I thought was really interesting, and started me thinking about all sorts of things.
I had to tell exactly one person that we were laptop-free today, and that he needed to close his laptop. After which he left (and not so happily, I think). I saw a few other people read our sign on the door and leave. And one person asked if we had wifi, and when I said ‘not today,’ he ordered a drink to go, and went elsewhere. These things didn’t make me happy, but I wasn’t really surprised by them.
A woman posted on facebook something to the effect that we *are* just another wifi shack, and that all this stuff is just hot air. Which hurt my feelings a little bit, I have to admit.
I also just saw a blog post by a woman who was a bit worried that we would somehow force her to be social, even though she’s a bit introverted. And didn’t love the idea.
And, after reflection on all this, and a few other things, I wanted to quickly jot down some thoughts:
1) The removal of laptops from a room which might have otherwise been full of them does not result in a magical cafe wonderland. It only creates space in which other (I think more interesting) things can happen. And it’s up to all of you people to make them happen. If you want conversation, start one. If you want art, make some. If you want smiles, give some. It takes effort to build a community. Expend some.
2) I can’t (and don’t really want to) force anyone to socialize with anyone. But there’s nothing I love more than watching strangers find something in common. And I’ve seen it happen so many times in the Cafe. Some may find it difficult to believe that I’m actually pretty introverted, and that’s it’s really difficult for me to strike up a conversation with a stranger. But it’s important. Technology has made it much easier for natural introverts (like me) to feel social without making much effort. But it’s a false sociability – in the end, it’s not really fulfilling, and by not practicing social skills (which, like all skills, work best when used often), we make it increasingly more difficult to make real connections. Which leads to all sorts of bad stuff in the long run.
3) I am not anti-technology. I am anti-isolation. I think we have lots of great tools and that we often misuse them. I also think that our obsession with staying constantly abreast of whatever interests us is silly, and leads to a crappy quality of life. Sometimes, it’s OK to wait. I also think that we (and I say ‘we’ because I’m guilty of this as well) forget that we have certain obligations to each other when in public spaces – that we’ve forgotten good manners. Shame on us all.
4) We may not be doing everything right, but we’re trying. If nothing else, this experiment has led to a ton of conversation. I’ve made new friends along the way. I’ve seen customers engage each other over this issue. Just like having parties on first Fridays, we’re doing this experiment and others, trying to find ways to bring people together. Excising laptops and wifi entirely from the Cafe is something that some people seem to be advocating for, but I think that’s a bit extreme. Why can’t we create a balanced environment, where our devices are tools, and don’t run the show? Does it have to be so black-and-white? Are we so dependent on these gadgets that we need to keep them out of sight so we don’t fall under their spell?
So, anyway…I’m interested to see what happens when all the hoopla blows over. Will the place turn into a ghost town on the weekends? Will conversations spontaneously erupt? Will folks post lots of annoyed yelp reviews about us? Will it matter if they do? Maybe it’s best that we be the quiet neighborhood joint that no one really knows about. And that pretty cool things happen inside.
[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.]