Headin’ to the coffee shop to do a little web crawling? Think again.

Thursday, August 6, 2009 6:59

Since wireless internet has become available, public access, especially in places such as bookstores and coffee shops has been quite popular. Such locations offer a place to eat, drink, and spend some quality one on one time with your and your computer, filling your brain with whatever it is you fill it with. In recent years, the abundance of public WiFi and rising costs in the current recession has caused many people to turn off their own home based internet and go hunting in the concrete jungle for a free ride. Now I’m not saying everyone or even a majority of public WiFi users are doing so because it is too expensive to pay for home internet use, merely that that occurrence has increased with the economic downturn. Consumers however aren’t the only group to be hit hard, retailers are just as susceptible. Moving back to coffee shops and bookstores, the increasing number of internet users who stay for hours on end all while buying a single cup of coffee are hurting sales and keeping potential customers away because of lack of seating space. Retailers aren’t sitting down (no pun intended) and are actually fighting back — not through violent back alley means, but to the digital techies who frequent such places, the alternative may be worse.

Throughout coffee shops in particular in various New York boroughs, shop owners are putting up signs warning customers and potential internet users that their are “blackout times” for laptop usage in order to reduce the amount of free loaders and increase business. Some businesses are even going as far as to block power outlets further discouraging the free loading behavior. The constant cat and mouse game between business owners and laptop users is increasing as more and more businesses turn to limit laptop use in their stores. One particularly alarming example comes is detailed by Leah Meyerhoff, a 29 year old film director and free-lancer who is finding it increasingly difficult to find public cafes to meet clientèle, work, and just plain focus as she doesn’t have her own office.

Another even more eye opening example of the shift in the cafe/laptop user relationship is shared by Hannah Moots, 23. An aspiring archeologist went to a downtown New York bar called Cocoa Bar. Upon opening up her laptop she was instructed by the owner, Mr. Soltani, to either “power down or leave”. While I can surely understand the owners frustration and willingness to make a dollar, the way he went about it seems downright rude and sure makes someone reading this story think twice about visiting such an unfriendly place. Hannah Moots was so distraught and upset with the way everything was handled that she wrote about it on Yelp, a popular foodie website where consumers can review various restaurants Mr. Soltani saw the review and responded by saying he was disappointed by Hannah’s comments. Currently, Hannah isn’t welcome at Cocoa Bar anymore, something I’m sure she hardly cares about.

While these are a couple of the more extreme examples of rules or policies being enforced above and beyond what is normal, they are quickly becoming the norm in New York. Will this kind of behavior spread across the country and/or world? Only time will tell. One thing is for certain, with the economy not exactly making any great leaps and bounds in any sort of an upwards direction, some of our daily habits may have to adapt to this new market. The next time you head out the door with your trusty laptop to meet some friends at the local cafe, don’t be surprised if they give your the cold shoulder. Just as fast as internet cafes came, could they be just as quickly leaving?

Source: WSJ

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