Friday, January 28, 2011

No Man is an Island - Except at Starbucks

Nancy and I are board members for a couple of home owners associations (HOA) for properties we own in town. Recently we have found it convenient to have our board meetings at the local Starbucks coffee shops. I don’t drink “gourmet” coffee, finding my morning cup of generic ole Yuban more than sufficient to get me on my way. So other than our periodic HOA meetings, I never visit Starbucks.

So maybe I am alien to this coffeehouse culture, but don’t people frequent coffee shops to socialize? I can’t tell you how many Rick Steves travel adventure shows I’ve watched on public television, but it seems he is always promoting planting your tourist ass in a coffee shop to people watch and meet the locals.

So why is it that each time I have visited Starbucks, everyone there is sitting alone at a table for four with their face buried in a notebook computer or i-phone? There’s no socializing, no conversations to eavesdrop on, only the incessant tapping of keyboards or thumbs dancing on a miniscule screen.

Why are these people there in Starbucks, NOT interacting with anyone present? I find it difficult to believe that none of these people have internet connections at home and have schlepped down to the coffee house merely for the free Wi-Fi. Do they somehow feel the need for the proximity other human presence but suffer from Terminal Geekiness which renders them too introverted to speak directly to another human face?

Seriously, the ONLY time I have witnessed more that one person sitting at a table in Starbucks has been us during our HOA meetings.

In researching this article I ran across Field guide to Wifi users at Starbucks. I swear that, in my few brief visits, I have seen at least half of these characters represented in the article. I think the next time I go to Starbucks, I may order an Italian soda with cream and sit down opposite one of these lonely folks and stare at them over their screen to see how long it takes for them to notice, or god forbid, say something.
[slurp]

31 comments:

Gorilla Bananas said...

The Wi-Fi is free? I had no idea. I thought places like Starbucks were simply "hot spots" for mobile internet providers who charge for their services. The place must be packed with internet geeks if it's free.

MartyrMom said...

Ha Ha Robert! The Engineer and I go out at least once a week to Barnes and Noble and see the same thing. Anywhere there is free internet there is sure to be those guys. I've been there too once or twice when my internet was down but I would have noticed you right away!!

Too HDAD to be still that long!

DJan said...

I avoid Starbucks for many reasons, not the least of which they are one of the few places in town that don't serve Free Trade coffee. I hang out in a place that has an old fashioned espresso machine and everybody interacts. When I go there this morning, I'll visit with at least a half dozen regulars (like me). In fact, I've given up trying to read the paper there. :-)

Wow, that was awkward said...

I may or may not be sitting in a Starbucks right this second reading your blog while some creepy guy helped himself to the seat across from me and appears to be staring at me while I type this comment.

FYI, there is a regular group of guys that meet at this same Starbucks every Wed morning at 8:30am. I join them when I can. We sit around talking about sports, girls, business, sports and girls.

billy pilgrim said...

i've never been inside a starbucks but i do see people sitting at the tables outside on the patios of some outlets smoking their brains out and talking with each other. i guess there's a bond amongst smokers.

Robert the Skeptic said...

Bananas Yes, in the US Wi-Fi at Starbucks, and our other local home-grown coffee houses, is FREE!! What a devilish marketing plan that is.

MartyrMom Indeed you would notice me... I would be the guy NOT drinking coffee and NOT pecking on some computer device.

DJan That's cool that you actually interact with people there. Kind-a what it would be for, I would think.

Awkward Is this creeping guy staring directly at you... not blinking? That "could" be me.

So when you are hanging with the guys there talking sports, girls, business, et.al... I assume this is talking with, like your lips moving, and not talking as in type chat across the room?

Billy Yeah, they shove the smokers outside. My buddy will did see a guy pacing rapidly back and forth like a caged lion outside the coffee shop sipping his brew. Appeared like a sad case of "caffeine overload" to me.

Kay Dennison said...

I like your idea -- a lot!

Mandy's Kidding said...

For some reason I always assume people on computers in coffee shops are students. I must be getting old.

alwaysinthebackrow said...

Coffee shops are usually an escape from other parts of life. I agree that the ideal would be to have people talking and interacting, the stereotype of coffee shops. But this generation is different, they isolate themselves from other, interacting most comfortably by computer.

Paul said...

I put your blog on my blog roll..

Robert the Skeptic said...

Kay Don't tempt me, I just may DO IT!

Mandy Well they seem to be older than college kids; do they call them "Yuppies" any more? Probably not... more likely they're called "unemployed".


BackRow I've notice that, kind of like being anonymous in public. Hell the cute guy is probably texting the cute girl at the next table. Neither one of them has the guts to actually speak face-to-face.

I just saw an ad on TV where the girl texted to her boyfriend (sitting right across from him) that she was breaking up with him. Then she sent him an e-mail. All the while he is asking her.. "You're breaking up with me by text??!!" Then she calls him. Too funny.

Paul I'm honored!

Murr Brewster said...

I have to say if someone was trying to make eye contact that strenuously I might be tempted to take my drugs and go home. It's all community. They might be chatting with someone in a Starbucks across the country.

TechnoBabe said...

Even if there were a Starbucks in our little town, we would not frequent it. My daughter has sent me Starbucks gift cards and we have used them but if not for that we would stay home and grind our French Roast beans and make our most excellent coffee. We also have Columbian beans for decaf. Yum. Most of the people that I know in real life who do frequent Starbucks go there alone and/or meet one other person for a prearranged meeting. My grown kids run into their Starbucks, order, rush out, and drink on the run. Everything is rush, rush, rush.

The Mother said...

Sorry. Not being a social person, I go to Starbucks to: 1) get away from kids' soccer games; 2) keep myself occupied while waiting for kids; 3) get a cup of coffee.

In none of these instances do I want any conversation with anyone, ever.

Maybe it's just me.

Madame DeFarge said...

I like their apple fritter donuts. That's my excuse. Our local one is full of lost civil servants, wandering about looking for coffee.

Infidel753 said...

It seems to be more and more that way in all public places nowadays. Everybody's focused on some gadget they've got with them, oblivious to the people around them.

But for those who are more into people-watching than socializing, it makes things easier.

Paul said...

When I have gone to Starbucks (a few times)in the past, I did not feel that I fit in there. I got the impression that some of the people there were there to be seen.

Rain said...

I don't do Starbucks; so am unfamiliar with this but have been in New Morning Bakery and seen people doing their homework, taking up a table when there is a shortage. Same thing at Borders where I used to get a cup of coffee sometimes just to sit with my husband for a bit and have half a scone and there would be someone apparently not eating or buying anything but spread out across a table with papers and homework. What is that about?

Robert the Skeptic said...

Murr A Starbucks-to-Starbucks network, you say. I wonder when Starbucks will put up it's own satellite like Muzak did?

TechnoBabe Competing with Starbucks we have all these little drive-in coffee kiosks all over town so folks can get their coffee buzz without having to shut off and get out of their car.

Dr. Mom Apparently you are in good company when you visit your Starbucks... or not, actually.

Robert the Skeptic said...

Madame I purchased a scone at Starbucks but accidentally dropped in on my foot. Hurt like a sonofabitch! I think Starbucks is the last place I would visit for pastries.

Infidel Yes, but are they watching people in the room or watching people on their PC's?

Paul I got that distinct impression as well. But what is the point in being seen with your nose pressed against your laptop?

Rain Oh "New Morning Bakery" is wonderful, but expensive. Yes, the college kids or business types with their paperwork spread out taking up an entire table. Unless you live or work in a tent, what is the point? My beef with NMB is that they expect you to wash off your own table with the spritz bottle when you are done. I draw the line there.

Nance said...

They are all communicating with their "affair partners."

Rocky said...

I read something that said today's young people do not just sit down and talk to a stranger. They tweet/text/email everyone they know asking if anyone knows the person of interest and would they put in a good tweet/text/email for you. Then once that has occurred, you are free to actually talk to them. Apparently it is creepy to just walk up to meet them. In that regard, yes social interactions have taken on an electronic bent. All that typing might actually be flirting!

Robert the Skeptic said...

Nance And, um... how would YOU know this salacious fact, my dear?

Rocky I see, sort of like "cyber stalking" but in reverse - then eventually they might text/tweet/e-mail their wedding vows.

Well, I can't ridicule that too much - I met Nancy on a telephone dating site.

KleinsteMotte said...

Yes the wifi is free but the saddest thing is that it's not a secure connection and now there are those who sit nearby or even drive by to pair up with the unsuspecting. They steal all their passwords and banking info. They use a new clever split screen invasion where they can see everything on your screen and more. Advice: never use a wifi that does not require a password. Even that has issues now.There are lots of hot spots in many places. Our entire transit system offers free wifi for travellers. Every bus or tram or train also has GPS so as you travel with your device on you can be watched along the way. Some parents use it to track kids but other??? You may figure it out.

Entre Nous said...

I'm with you, what IS it with these people trudging - worse yet wasting gas - to the local Starbucks to sit with their laptops? The coffee is grossly strong, not to mention over priced, and there is basically no human interaction going on, aside from the occasional couple missing the laptop and actually speaking. The last time I stopped to get a coffee to go at a Starbucks (only coffee joint right off the road and I needed to stay wake to finish driving home)the music was so loud I had to near-shout to give my order. My new e-reader is hooked in with B & N and in order to get extra stuff you have to turn it on in the store to download the stuff. I winder if they'll object when I walk in with my own coffee, sit for ten minutes downloading, then leave... :}

Robert the Skeptic said...

KleinsteMotte I have used free Wi-Fi at airports, but as you say, never to look up my bank account or other password protected sites. Browsing the news or checking my flight, mostly. Yes, a cleaver person can eavesdrop on wireless connections.

Entre Nous I agree with you, I seldom go to coffee shops, Starbucks in particular, as I can sit alone on my computer more comfortably than sit alone at a Starbucks. My coffee is better anyway.

secret agent woman said...

Before I got internet on my phone, I would often stop at a coffee place for a cup of coffee and free Wifi. Who says it should be only for socializing? I go out to a restaurant with friends if I want that.

secret agent woman said...

Oh, and I meant to add this - when I am there, I am NOT lonely. I am relishing being left along for a change.

Antares Cryptos said...

There is a reason they call it antisocial networking.

Robert the Skeptic said...

Secret Agent You have never impressed me as being part of the crowd, you do not fit the mold... and that is a good thing.

Cryptos Indeed, seems like an oxymoron, doesn't it.

John Myste said...

Starbucks coffee and ambience, my friend. I spend much time at Starbucks, partially because I like the way the air tastes there, and partially for the tastiness of the beverages.

I like the background noise and I tend not to want to socialize. I like life in the background, so I feel alive without having to live.