Cities are changing along with the role of the internet in our lives. Consider this:
Some of the hippest coffee bars on the continent are shutting off their wifi Internet service. What initially drew in customers is now hampering the growth of business for the cafes with great food, coffee, and locations — at least in prime time.
When one person sits at a table, slowly sipping one cup of coffee for 2 hours while surfing the net, it can repel other customers, especially those that come in small groups and order food as well as espresso beverages.
There are a couple significant developments for urban life to note in this shift.
First, WIFI has become so common in “third place” businesses like cafes and fast food restaurants that in many ways its a “unique offering” to not offer it. It suggests that this cafe is for food, coffee and socializing, as well as being “unplugged” and thinking without the distraction of constant information. Kinda retro, if you will, or maybe chic depending upon the establishment. And also very urban–after all, why are people in cities if not to experience other people.
Second, freeloading internet access off restaurants and cafes may start to become very “low brow” or “un-hip.” This may make the access at libraries and other civic spaces more utilized and valued. It’s okay to sit in the library for hours reading books or magazines or newspapers–always has been. Now it will also be a place where it’s okay to freeload internet access for the day. This could help rejuvenate libraries.
Third, from the popularity of working in third places, like coffee houses, it seems that many urban residents actually need a place where they can get out of their house or apartment, meet the occasional customer, and have a coffee while working. Starbucks isn’t always the right venue as it can get loud, parents with crying babies can come in, etc. Maybe there is a need for a more professional, business centre that looks a bit like a coffee house with a variety of seating options, serves coffee (employs a barrista) but also offers a printer, a scanner, fax and other services. Perhaps you pay by the hour to be there, or a monthly membership and the latte is included. Maybe such a place already exists.
As more people live in dense areas, and as more people work freelance or are permitted significant flexibility by their employer, urban spaces for working and collaborating and unplugging continue to change. What’s next?