Wednesday, January 27, 2010

laptop-free weekends - the experiment

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 ( It wasn't conclusive, and this isn't either. We're just trying to make our way in a cold world. :)

(wish us luck!)


Quick update

I haven't had a second to give any updates on the Cafe, except 140 characters at a time. Here's a (slightly) longer one.

We've been doing spectacularly well, thanks to our neighbors and local cyclists. Weather has been a bit dodgy for the past couple weeks, and folks are a little less animated now that the holidays are over, but I'm past worrying about getting people into the Cafe, and on to bigger and better things.

We've started a movie night. Tonight will be our second week. Last week we played Willie Wonka (the original with Gene Wilder), and it was great. More on this soon.

We're also getting into the rhythm of first Friday openings, and starting to put together some interesting activities, music, etc.

This month, on February 5th, we'll be hosting an opening of 'Getting There' - photography by Christopher Hall. We'll also have B Spoke Tailor making made-to-order arm warmers out of recycled sweaters, and a nighttime bike ride after. There will be music, and fun of various sorts.

We're also embarking on an experiment - laptop-free weekends. I'm devoting a whole post to that today as well. Stay tuned.

First month in the bag. I'm looking forward to many more. If you haven't already, stop by and introduce yourself. We like making connections.