Monday, March 1, 2010

laptop-free weekends. for good and for real.

I'm thrilled to announce that our laptop-free weekend experiment, while not without it's bumps, has been on the whole, a huge success, and that we'll be keeping weekends at the Cafe laptop-free indefinitely. The Cafe has become a different (I think nicer) place on the weekends, and many people have told me that they go out of their way to come here on the weekend because of this policy.

To see the reasons why we're doing this, check out my original post on the topic.

We'll be making more prominent mention of this on the website and also making some better permanent signage to prevent folks from getting surprised on the weekends when they take their laptops out and I come visit (which has happened a few times, I'm sorry to say).

I had a couple people suggest that we just turn off the wifi on weekends, rather than restrict laptops. I don't think this achieves the same effect, and so we won't be trying it at the moment. I am sympathetic to people who need to work on their laptops on the weekend, but it's not what we're trying to do here.

I'm also really happy that Sunday game nights have been going really well, and that we intend to make these a permanent feature of the Cafe. Folks have been bringing their own games, as well as playing the (not tiny) assortment we've got here. People are playing with their own friends, as well as with people they don't even know. Which is cool, right?

And there have been unicycles.

We're looking for another activity for Saturday nights. I'm open to suggestions. Ideally, it would involve some interactive component, rather than just passive participation. Cause that's how we do here at Actual.

And, btw - don't miss our new opening this Friday. Just like every first Friday, it will be a party. Great local photography by Eva Silverman, along with her WPA-style illustrations, and a slideshow of photos that she inherited from her father, taken in Chicago, Brooklyn and NJ mostly in the 70s. DJs Oze and Kid Frostbite. Live music by Loretta Lynch.


Making waves on San Pablo since 2009...



  1. Sal, While i've disagreed vehemently with your Laptop Policy for the Weekends. I'm happy to see you successfully leverage your vision, and concepts for your Cafe.

  2. K. Starting the countdown clock 'til a Starbucks moves in to your vacant storefront. . .

  3. "Actual Cafe
    this happens from time to time[...]it's much harder to explain to someone who's already set up to work what we're trying to do - it puts them on the defensive, and it doesn't make for much... See More productive discussion.

    i do think that most folks 'get' what's happening here, but many don't, and i'd love to find a better way to communicate with them in a way that's not off-putting...

    we'll work on that."

    How about getting over yourself and not telling people what they can/cannot do when they're your paying customers?
    Crazy thought, I know...

  4. It's weird how there are so many negative comments on the laptop-free weekend post! I think you're doing a great thing at your cafe, and although I haven't visited yet, I'm definitely going to make a point of stopping by soon.

    There are plenty of laptop-friendly cafes out there for people who just need to get some work done. If they're unhappy with your policy, so be it. Your cafe is a nice breath of fresh air that encourages people to interact with each other in person.

  5. Just like to add my experience here.

    I visited Actual Cafe yesterday, as it is very close to where I am staying. It's my first visit to the area, and my creative life keeps me moving around. It was around lunchtime and I needed sustenance and an hour or two of network time.

    Your interior is inviting and there were about 5 or 6 people sitting and/or ordering. My partner and I were about to order also, when I read your WiFi Free Weekend signage.

    Short story: we left without purchasing lunch and went to another, less principled, cafe and spent 90 minutes and $35.

    Long story: As I mentioned, I'm not native to Oakland or California, so perhaps my cultural perspective coloured my reaction (A clue there in the spelling!)

    But I did feel the posters judged my lifestyle.

    Curiously, I do appreciate your manifesto -- obviously I became curious enough to research your enterprise -- and actually applaud its broader aims of cultivating community, both "actually" and virtually, through your Blog, website and Facebook page. Community is so vital.

    But, had I not seen the notices, spent $35 for 2 lunches and coffees, sat down, got out my laptop, and "been approached." I think my reaction would have been, shock, embarrassment and some anger, born out of the above perception that my lifestyle was being judged.

    I understand the commercial considerations: people taking 1 or more (a lot more) hours of one coffee, while other customers cannot use the space, is a big problem. But what about someone lingering over a good book? Or the Sunday paper?

    A simple "No WiFi is available at weekends" would not have made me feel judged. But It would not have forwarded your Manifesto.

    A community space, a place to "be" and interact is so important in our evermore virtual world. Making people aware of how much time they are investing in the virtual world, to the detriment of the real, is hugely important. But in between "Digital Native" and the "Unconnected" there is a spectrum. You recognise this, in use Information and Communication Technologies in the process of creating community.

    So, perhaps I'm not your demographic, and "any publicity is good publicity." But I left without spending and felt a little condescended for making the choice to walk in the door on the pretext of using my laptop.

    I'm not angry. I just wanted to add to the dialogue, albeit digitally. Ironically, I'm too shy to tell you my thoughts in person, and that's pushed my further away from actual community you wish to engender. I'm just one person. What power do I have in the face of the many? The vocal are always heard. The silent slip further into the shadows and do risk exposing themselves, for fear of further ridicule.

    A thought here: Instead of discouraging the Wifi use, why not use it to bring WiFi "users" together? Have a day, or a half day, when they are welcomed with open arms, but with one proviso: They make the effort to talk to one total stranger? Break the ice, have fun, experience the community of WiFi users.

    Honey. Not vinegar.

    Because yesterday, I felt a little sting of the acetic.


  6. I had very similar feelings to the ones described above regarding laptop free weekends. Condescending, aggressive, bossy, some may even say judgmental. I understand the idea and I appreciate people trying to make the world a better place. But saying "you can't use your laptop here, you can't work on your novel here, you can't finish your grad school application here," This message of "can't, can't, can't" just seems a little pushy.

    Maybe Sundays are discussion days. Maybe there's a question of the day posted on each table, and customers are encouraged to discuss it with one another. Conversation ensues, then people who want to work on grant proposals for their fledgling non-profit can decide for themselves if the environment is suited to their needs.

    But deciding for them, there's an unsavory touch of "more righteous than thou" At least that how it feels to me. And that's why, even though I live mere blocks away, I'm generalyl reluctant to go to Actual Cafe.

  7. some places that serve breakfast offer the breakfast menu all day, some don't.

    i hope everyone who is upset about Actual Café's Laptop-Free Weekend policy is also upset if they can't get Breakfast at 6PM in every/any restaurant they happen to be sitting in at 6PM, because in that case their indignant behaviour would be consistent.

  8. Some of you complain about not having your precious WiFi and become defensive as if someone is telling you that you're a lesser human being because you'd like to bust out the computer, but if you can't understand the positive benefit of being disconnected from the web for longer than a few minutes you're missing the bigger picture.

    The idea of not being able to access the internet isn't to force anyone into doing anything. You don't have to talk to strangers if you don't want to, regardless of whether or not you can use your lap-top.

    No lap-top weekends are there to create the opportunity to enjoy what is right in front of you, to make space, to perhaps take a moment and peer inward rather than outward. Which is the only way we are projecting while connected to the screen.

    It's disappointing to see how many of you are being so judgmental (and also ironically complain about being the victims of judgment) of a harmless "no lap-top weekend". Nobody is against applications for grad school, important essays, etc.

    Try to see the positive benefit. There is one.

    There's also something to be said for not staring into a screen for hours on end every day of the week.