Coffee Shops: The Anti-Bar

The Atlantic published an article today entitled Working Best at Coffee Shops, which postulated that white collar professionals – especially telecommuters – can be “most efficient in noisy public places with lots of distractions.”  To support this proposition, the article quoted two notable authors – novelist Ernest Hemingway and modern social scientist Malcolm Gladwell – who stated they too were highly productive when writing in restaurants and cafes.

This got me thinking: if working remotely in coffee shops via wireless internet connections, smart phones, and laptops is becoming commonplace, does that mean bars will become the opposite?  In other words, will people seek out bars, pubs, and taverns as places of refuge from working life, professional obligations, and especially, technology?  Might bars finally become the one place where we disconnect from our social networks and virtual relationships?

Historically speaking, the coffee house and the public house have always held opposite roles in social life.  Coffee houses were places of rationality, where innovation, speculation, and debate thrived among the clear-headed thinkers, scientists, and academics.  Tom Standage, in his book A History of the World in 6 Glasses, makes this point early in his text.  “Coffee house discussions led to the establishment of scientific societies, the founding of newspapers, the establishment of financial institutions, and provided fertile ground for revolutionary thought, especially in France.  Such is clearly not the case for bars, taverns, or pubs – at least not in my experience.  In fact, such activities – rational thought, innovation, and reasoned debate – are precisely what are absent when a glass of beer, wine, or liquor is poured.  Instead, joyous and noisy revelry is commonplace; disagreements, which are oftentimes completely senseless, are settled with irrationality, physical violence, or more simply, another round.

Yet bars’ lack of productivity is nothing other than absolute fun.  Perhaps coffee shops will become more and more like remote office spaces: cubicles lacking walls but not the tethers of technology.  So maybe when seeking a drink to end the workday – regardless of where you work – we will stow our electronic devices and focus more on those around us and the drink before us.  And rather than “liking” that snarky online comment while at the bar, we’ll choose instead to simply “like” another drink.

Published in: on April 19, 2011 at 10:26 pm  Comments (1)  
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One Comment

  1. Great post. I think it is so important to have a dividing line between work and leisure time/space, and if that line is the entrance to the bar, so be it!

    While workers may be “most efficient in noisy public places with lots of distractions” they are essentially pluged in and tuned out from their surroundings. I’d love to find a coffee shop that was a hub for debate, but I see most of them as places where wannabe writers are hunched over their Macs gazing at Facebook (a bit mean, perhaps, I know).

    While the debate may not always be rational, there is far more of it to be found in a bar – and the best bars are far more human than any coffee shop – and will remain that way providing the wi-fi is turned off.

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