Coffee Shops Want You To Get Offline Already

Take your morning latte with a side of conversation.

You, your laptop and a full day of work walk into a coffee shop — only to discover that there’s no Wi-Fi. This might sound like something out of a freelancer’s nightmare, but Wi-Fi-less cafes are becoming more common, as the New York Times reports.

Coffee shops like HotBlack Coffee in Toronto and Cafe Grumpy in New York are deliberately Wi-Fi-less in hopes of getting customers to, you know, actually talk to each other.

HotBlack president Jimson Bienenstock spoke to the NYT about creating the offline cafe, a move that’s getting a surprising amount of press. Bienenstock, who lived abroad for 15 years, said the phenomenon of setting up shop to do work in a cafe is unique to North America. He adds that not providing his customers with Wi-Fi isn’t “revolutionary” but a response to people being so caught up in their screens that they’ve forgotten the fine art of face-to-face communication.

Image courtesy of Unsplash

Some cafes deliberately design spaces that aren’t conducive to work, including narrowly-designed counters that are “less accommodating for laptops,” according to NYT. Of Cafe Grumpy’s seven locations in New York and Brooklyn, only their Greenpoint location has Wi-Fi or ample work space — the rest are deliberately offline.

Whether this strategy will actually work is a different story: You can take the Wi-Fi out of a screen-centric society, but it won’t get rid of the screens or guarantee the people will start conversing. But the move is important, even if only symbolically. And encouragingly, the trend of spaces trying to get us to focus on each other instead of our devices is growing. This restaurant, for example, gives people a discount if they go an entire meal without using their phones.

While it’s sad that we need Wi-Fi-less cafes or monetary incentives to actually talk to the people around us, these spaces signal an awareness of the role technology plays in our ability to connect with others. Plus, as we all learn to set healthier boundaries with screens in the digital age, getting some help from our most-frequented places can’t hurt.

Read more on the NYT.