Visiting Laptopistan

A friend of the blog recently emailed this very good article from the New York Times by David Sax. The author visited Atlas Café in Williamsburg to understand what drives people to set up their laptops in a coffee shop and work for hours.

(from rubenerd on Flickr)

This is a topic that hits close to home for me. If you've been reading this blog for a while, you might be interested to learn that between September 2009 and May 2010, roughly 4 out of every 5 posts published here were written from my favorite coffee shop.

Why did I spend so much time and so much money there? It's not because I needed their internet. I could have just as easily set-up in my kitchen table at home, with a pot of coffee brewed in my French press, and worked. I could have grabbed coffee on campus and worked in the university library. And it's not because I needed coffee or caffeine - I drank plenty of cups of decaf during the time I spent working from my favorite coffee shop.

There's something inspiring about writing from a good coffee shop - it's a feeling that's hard to describe. I enjoyed being able to chat with my barista friends about whatever came to mind. I liked seeing all of the customers come in and out of the cafe, and saying hello to the ones I knew.

Of course, this all raises questions about "squatters" and coffee shop etiquette and whether people like me are really ruining the very businesses that are propping us up. I think Sax's explanation of why so many coffee shop owners still invite laptop users in is on-point:
While the people behind the screens spent a paltry $6 to $10 per day, their true value is as a draw for more profitable takeout customers, Mr. Lorenzetti said. From the moment the door opens at 7 a.m. until it closes at 9 p.m., the place is buzzing, a productive society, visible from the street through wraparound windows. “People come in to buy food and coffee to go, because they see a full crowd,” he said. “They think ‘Hey, this place must be good if I can’t even get a table.’ ”
This is something which I can definitely relate to. There's not much that's more awkward than going into a business where you're the only customer. I know it's not an entirely rational response, but it's true.

I've come to appreciate that finding a good coffee shop to work is not easy. It has to be warm and welcoming, keep good hours, serve tasty drinks, and have plenty of space. Most coffee shops are really good at one or two of those things. Very few are good at all of them.