“Café,” in continental Europe, refers to a traditional type of coffeehouse, but elsewhere "cafe" may refer to a tea room, small and cheap restaurant or other casual eating and drinking places. A coffeehouse may share some of the same characteristics of a bar or restaurant. In this country Coffeehouses and coffee shops range from owner-operated small businesses to ubiquitous multinational companies such as Starbucks.
From a cultural standpoint, Cafes have, in the past, served as centers of social interaction by providing patrons with a place to congregate, talk, entertain one another, or pass the time, whether individually or in small groups.
They can also serve as an informal club for its regular members. As early as the 1950s Beatnik era and the 1960s folk music scene, Cafes/coffeehouses have hosted singer-songwriter performances, typically in the evening. It is there that news is communicated and where those interested in politics freely criticize the government without being fearful. Innocent games resembling checkers, hopscotch, and chess, are played. Poets take turns telling stories in verse or in prose.
Think of Paris or Rome’s Cafes: vibrant, noisy, bustling, full of people engaged in face to face conversations, and then enter a Starbucks or any American Café.
You will be hit by the sound of silence. Since the development of Wi-Fi, coffeehouses with this capability, especially in the U.S., have become places for patrons to access the Internet on their phones or tablets and the line between talking and socializing has been blurred, the hope is that it will not blur the line between talking and thinking because Facebooking or Tweeting is like muttering to oneself.
At any given time of the day the tables, the bar stools or the couches are filled with young men on Grindr, if you are in the gayborhood. In the straight venues men and women are silently sipping lattes, immersed in isolation, while peering into their screens swiping on the faces of strangers they have not yet met. They are on Tinder, Hinge, Happen, OkCupid, whatever.
People used to meet their partners through proximity, by a chance encounter, in a noisy bar, or in a real "live" cafe. Now dating apps are surpassing any other form. It's like online shopping, browsing for a person instead of a microwave. Nobody knows how to talk face-to- face since their anxiety about intimacy comes from having grown up on social media, forming their first impressions of an individual based on Facebook rather than human connection. They are absorbed and too anxious about what tweet they might be missing. There is no emotional intimacy and the world around them is no longer real unless it is reflected off a small screen. Many find it difficult to talk to one another without technological devices. Social media and its endless apps are eroding emotional, social, even cultural development. Mental muscles become flabby and the mind lapses into a complete and comfortable vacuum.
Starbucks and the like are just one aspect, it happens everywhere, all around us, just stroll the boulevards of a big city, or the sidewalks of a small town, people are bumping into each other, into things, into the oncoming traffic, tripping all over the place, and they have iPhones in their faces or ears.
Ironically with all this “we are more connected than ever” we have never been farther apart. Conversation is fading away, a lost art. We have become more detached and isolated from one another, even lonelier, because this hyper interactivity is shallow if not ephemeral. And even in public places we meet fewer people now, and when we do our bonds are not as meaningful because we are distracted by wanting to contact those who are not present. It is as if people are instantly bored with whoever is sitting in front of them and so they click and wait and swipe and wait for somebody else to chime in. We want to spend time with machines that seem to care about us. We expect more from technology and less from each other.
We need less isolation and more real socialization with family and friends. Our society seems to have lost stimulus and ideals, communication is reduced to 140 truncated characters interspersed with the frivolous narcissistic selfie.
I unplugged long ago yet I don’t feel disconnected, quite the opposite. I can actually hear and see what’s really important. And the fact is, I don't miss a whole lot when I'm not on social media. You should try it. Sometimes it can be liberating because we need to focus on the many ways technology can lead us back to our real lives, our own bodies, our own communities, our true friends, our own politics, our own planet away from this opaque reality and the globalization of indifference.
When will they make an app for a nap?