California Coffeehouses and Book Culture

In What's the Buzz by Helen Gregg

By Helen Gregg

The bans on computers that are becoming more prevalent in California cafés and coffeehouses are often extended to e-readers, reported eBookNewser this morning. In an effort to keep out squatters, many cafes in the state have disabled free Wi-Fi, given out time-sensitive Wi-Fi passwords, or even covered electrical outlets to keep traffic moving and keep space at tables available for all customers. Now some have banned laptops altogether, a ban which extends to the iPad and even the Kindle and similar dedicated readers.

The coffeehouse owners interviewed in the LA Times article about the new rules all spoke of the need to preserve the culture of their café as a place of meeting and exchanging ideas. This culture does not have room for laptops and e-readers, but print books and newspapers are still “embraced” by owners and are part of the culture these coffeehouses are hoping to regain. In defining their values and the values of their customers, owners working to remove electronic devices from their cafés have drawn a definite distinction -– print books are cultured, electronic books are not.

The sentiments of these café owners speak to a larger divide emerging between those who read electronically, and those who do not and will not. As prices for e-readers drop, it will become easier for those who want to read electronically to do so, and those opposed, for whatever reason, to e-reading will become a more defined, and probably a more entrenched, subset of the population.

As these coffeehouses were turning off their Wi-Fi, Starbucks across the country began to offer internet access for free, and this fall will cater to those who bring electronic devices by offering exclusive news and media content over the network. The omnipresence of Starbucks led Bryant Simon, a Temple University professor, to say that there is “now a market niche for not having Wi-Fi,” and a demand for a non-digital café experience. This has made it easier for these smaller coffeehouses to cover their outlets and cater to the print subset, selling the culture as much as the coffee.

About the Author

Helen Gregg