Apparently, there is a time and a place for cyberspace, despite what Starbucks would have you believe.
The Los Angeles Times reports that a growing number of coffee shops on the West Coast are trying to force customers to leave the Internet at the door. Those who walk into shops like Four Barrel Coffee in San Francisco or Victrola Coffee & Art in Seattle will find that in these establishments, Wi-Fi is a bad word. At these shops, customers are expected to take their eyes off their smartphones or laptops, focusing instead on their cup of Joe.
“Coffee shops were the retail pioneers of Wi-Fi, flipping the switch to lure customers. But now some owners are pulling the plug,” the Times reports. “They're finding that Wi-Fi freeloaders who camp out all day nursing a single cup of coffee are a drain on the bottom line. Others want to preserve a friendly vibe and keep their establishments from turning into Matrix-like zombie shacks where people type and don't talk.”
Unfortunately for these shops, disconnecting Americans from the Internet is easier said than done. The Times notes that coffee shop owners will do everything from blocking electrical outlets to directing their customers to other venues that do have WiFi. Coffee shops aren’t the only ones taking a stand against the Web and technology that supports it. Several small restaurants in New York and Boston are banning laptops outright. Similarly in 2006, the Sheraton hotel in Chicago offered an unusual service: Locking up your smartphone lest you check your e-mail too much during vacation. Also, earlier this year, Yankee Stadium made headlines when it decided to ban the iPad as part of a larger policy prohibiting laptops.
In a sense, this policy is reminiscent of cell phones being banned in public places like theaters and restaurants. But whereas cell phones are banned because they can be disruptive to the people around you, it seems that some places are now banning the Internet may because it’s disruptive to… yourself.
Of course, it might sound counterintuitive for businesses to deprive customers of a basic technology they can get just about anywhere, but maybe that’s point. Cities like New York and Philadelphia have ramped up efforts in recent years to expand wireless into every conceivable public area including the subway. In a very real sense, there is little opportunity to escape from the Internet.