Yearning for the Pre-Laptop Café Life

Tuesday, 21 Sep 2010 10:49 AM

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Remember the television series "Cheers?" The theme song talked about a place where “everybody knows your name.” All the characters were like relatives in an extended family: love, hate, confusion, expectations, communication gaffes, and friendship. It was a program ultimately about community.

Months ago, when my husband and I were on a motorcycle trip up and down the coast, we stopped at the town of Arroyo Grande, Calif. Signs along the freeway said it was historic, and I decided that a stop there might be a cute adventure. I was 100 percent correct. The old town looks like something out of the 1950s: one-story buildings, mom-and-pop stores, and roosters walking around town like they owned it.

The one cafe open for breakfast was just like the old-style diners I miss so much. We found a booth and looked over the menu, complete with hash, gravy over biscuits, and selections with so much food it would take pushing my motorcycle up a 10-mile hill to work off the calories. But it was homey.

We noticed that everybody having breakfast was talking not only to folks at their own tables but also with people from other tables.

Whenever someone walked in, everybody said, “Hi!” using the person’s name. It was like one, big, glorious extended family.

I don’t understand cafes that cater to individuals who hog a table for hours while they play with their laptops or Kindles or cell phones. For me, walking into a cafe and seeing these bulks buried in cyberspace is a real turn-off, and I turn and leave.

I guess many cafe owners and managers believe that, without these squatters, they wouldn’t have business. Many people believe that, if you can’t fight ’em, you’ve got to cater to them.

Not so. I recently heard about a place called Café Grumpy in New York’s Chelsea neighborhood that banned laptops and cell phones. Besides the smell of coffee, you hear the sound of people actually chatting with one another.

Person-to-person contact is valued. Humanity is resurrected. Resistance isn’t futile.

I would like to challenge people to spend a day without any electronic connections attached to them.

Humans are gregarious creatures; we yearn for contact. See whether you make more meaningful, satisfying contacts face-to-face than hooking yourself up to the electronic universe. Reach out and actually touch someone.

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