Cafés with and without digital connection
“We are always just one sip away from revelation.” Paul Levy, author of Digital Inferno
It’s a rare thing to find a café in my home city of Brighton that doesn’t offer free Wifi. Most cases have a significant number of their tables taken by lone souls on their laptops, typing away, many wearing headphones. A coffee cup lies empty beside their digital devices and, though they are in the café, they are also elsewhere. You might think this is anti-social and yet those people may well be being social with other people, not in the physical space, via the wonders of digital connection. Skype calls. Emails. WhatsApp chats and so on.
Cafés have becoming hubs for digital working. They are buzzy, creative spaces and, for many people trying to earn a living, they are rent-free offices. The only cost is an occasional coffee.
I often do the same. I love hanging out in cafés, working in cafés, meeting and conversing in cafés. I am often one of those people who sits at a table, gets out my laptop and spends an hour or so doing my digital stuff.
But I used to love cafés before mobile and portable digital devices had claimed so much of our lives. I’ve never lost that “original purpose” I discovered in cafés. Unlike many people who need or like to be locked away in a quiet room when they want to think, I need noise. I need buzz and a feeling of social interaction. It’s easy to seek that online these days but I have always found it in physical spaces, especially cafés.
I sit there with a real paper note-book, a pot of tea, and my own restlessness and, sometimes, my own calm. I love impromptu conversations but I also love a kind of inner silence I can only found when surrounded by noise – the noise of human voices and espresso machines. It stimulates my thoughts. it quickens me to creativity and invention. Unbidden, I’ve had some of my most important and profound thoughts in cafés.
We are always just one sip away from revelation. But you have to be able to switch the digital off, or not switch it on it on in the first place. Taste that coffee, soak up that noise and ambiance. Put your digital world in its place, at least when you want to. cafés can be enjoyed without the mobile phone on your lap or on the cafe table in front of you. The liquid surface of your tea ripples with the vibration of a text from your smart phone, like a warning of an oncoming storm on a small pond. It is out of the paradoxical silence of surrounding café noises that my revelations often most appear.
Sit at your table with a steaming cappuccino, its milk froth decorated with a heart or a leaf design in chocolate. Spend at least some time fully immersed in that physical experience. Give anyone you are with your full attention, without digital distraction. Or simply enjoy the silence and, when you sip, fully enjoy and taste, and you might just find that is when your best create thoughts really begin to flow.
Paul Levy is the Author of Digital Inferno