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Laptopistan
April 21, 2011 7:04 PM   Subscribe

Working best at coffee shops. Destination: Laptopistan. Why work doesn't happen at work.
posted by AceRock (73 comments total) 33 users marked this as a favorite

 
I'm fairly certain that one of the top reasons many people get more work done at coffee houses than at home is because you can't masturbate in the coffee house.
posted by Kraftmatic Adjustable Cheese at 7:14 PM on April 21, 2011 [58 favorites]


Speaking of Getting Work Done, what's the tl;dr before I commit to a 15-minute TED talk?
posted by Greg_Ace at 7:17 PM on April 21, 2011 [6 favorites]


I can't drink heavily and play with cats or stare unblinkingly into the middle distance while bathing in a coffee house either.
posted by The Whelk at 7:18 PM on April 21, 2011 [12 favorites]


I was just thinking today about how I have to be on campus or in a coffee shop to get any sort of work done, even on my days off, even on things that are completely unrelated to actual work (writing, emails). It's making it hard to stick to my resolution not to buy coffee at coffee shops.

Thanks for the post, reading now.
posted by Phire at 7:19 PM on April 21, 2011


Y'all are going to the wrong coffee houses.
posted by regicide is good for you at 7:20 PM on April 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


You folks are clearly going to the wrong bath houses.

Oh, coffee houses. right.
posted by leotrotsky at 7:20 PM on April 21, 2011 [14 favorites]


pseudo jinx!
posted by leotrotsky at 7:21 PM on April 21, 2011


Coffee houses also lack TV & various other fun, distracting media.
posted by crataegus at 7:28 PM on April 21, 2011


I find that HRO can be extremely hit or miss, but I liked their takedown of Laptopistan.
posted by defenestration at 7:38 PM on April 21, 2011 [3 favorites]


tl:dr:re: Why Work Doesn't Happen at Work is Jason Fried of 37Signals talking about why employees don't get much done at work, what true distractions are and how to improve productivity at work.
posted by MarvinTheCat at 7:38 PM on April 21, 2011


I think "Laptopia" has more of a ring to it than "Laptopistan".
posted by i feel possessed at 7:38 PM on April 21, 2011 [8 favorites]


I'm fairly certain that one of the top reasons many people get more masturbating done at bathhouses than at home is because you can't check facebook at the bathhouse.
posted by nebulawindphone at 7:38 PM on April 21, 2011 [6 favorites]


Greg_Ace: "Speaking of Getting Work Done, what's the tl;dr before I commit to a 15-minute TED talk?"

Work is basically like sleep: if you get interrupted, you have to start again at the beginning. Work doesn't get done at the office because you rarely get an uninterrupted stretch of time. The real distractions at work aren't Facebook or Twitter, but managers and meetings. A ten-person one-hour meeting is ten hours of productivity wasted.

(Kinda silly) suggestions for how to remedy this:

1. "No-talk" Thursdays, where no one's allowed to talk to each other. Even just once a month.
2. Use email and IM more than meetings and face-to-face meetings.
3. Cancel meetings. As much as possible.
posted by Phire at 7:40 PM on April 21, 2011 [10 favorites]


Coffee shops do not contain cats. Coffee shops do not contain comfy, comfy sofas with blankets that you curl up under for just a second. Coffee shop floors could not stand a washing, and if they do, you're not responsible for doing that. Coffee shops do not contain students who drop by to ask about the grade on that last paper.

Mind you, coffee shops do have wireless, enabling you to spend all afternoon updating FB.
posted by jrochest at 7:43 PM on April 21, 2011 [5 favorites]


That takedown of Laptopistan really cracked me up.
posted by immlass at 7:52 PM on April 21, 2011


I spent 90 minutes in a coffee house yesterday, occasionally looking at my phone but mostly staring into space. I had some fantastic ideas and I'm working on putting them into action now. So, yeah.
posted by seanmpuckett at 7:52 PM on April 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


Another thing I've noticed is that just working in a different place induces a burst of new energy. Back in the day when I was writing my thesis, when laptops were still pretty expensive and only the most pretentious students had them, I found it impossible to get anything done at my place so I moved to my faculty's computer lab and actually worked productively for a few days. Then that ran out, so I started typing up on the library computers. After a few days there I lost it again (at about this point the due date slipped quietly past) and had to move back into my old bedroom at my parents' house and take over their computer. Unfortunately after that I had nowhere else to go, so it was another three weeks of sleep deprivation and truckdriver-grade caffeine tablets before I got the thing done.
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 8:15 PM on April 21, 2011 [5 favorites]


Sorry, no. My workplace is like my "temple of work." When I'm there, work is what I do. When I am not there, I do not work.

Of course there are sidetracks and detrails at work. Dealing with those is a big part of what work is.

Sure, I'd like to sit at home in my bathrobe coding. But sometimes my work is just holding hands with a user and reassuring them that everything is going to be OK. Or holding hands with my stupid boss (or her stupid boss), reminding them that, yes, the smart people are here and will take care of you.

There's a social/interpersonal aspect of work that seems to be missing here.

And, yes, I like being able to leave work behind. It'll be there tomorrow, no worries.
posted by SPrintF at 8:18 PM on April 21, 2011 [5 favorites]


I go to my Co-authors place to write. Every day. Until it is done.

My co-authors place is devoid of other people and full of expensive rum and raw fish and a kitty. There's a no linked device policy. I write everything out in longhand. Our only distractions are ourselves.

Granted we are pretty distracting.
posted by The Whelk at 8:22 PM on April 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


Phire - Thank you! Also, I'm amazed that (a) Fried's point matches my own personal, self-evolved views so perfectly (to the point that I find those suggestions only slightly silly), and (b) said views are apparently accepted enough to merit a TED talk; so I shall indeed devote the time to watching it.

And woe betide you if that's so perfect a précis that I get nothing additional from watching the full talk!
posted by Greg_Ace at 8:27 PM on April 21, 2011


I am one of those people who can't work unless I am outside of an 'office', sometimes in a library, but more often in a wi-fi connected coffee shop. Being in downtown Toronto most of the time, the tables around me are also full of people on their laptops, usually there for hours like me.

Being an anthropology grad student interested in information technology, it's fascinating to me to have a whole lot of people staring at screens, engaged in their own social world which the people in immediate physical proximity to them can't access. Even though their bodies are all in the same basic position (hands forward, forearms resting on the table, neck slightly hunched with eyes focuses on the screen, sometimes with earbuds firmly in place), but their minds are somewhere else completely. It makes me wonder whether all the somewhat fanciful predictions of mind uploading are rooted in the concrete, everyday experience of having your head dwell in places your body can't follow.

The fourth theory in the first link is interesting, because it looks at the coffee shop as a space for people to perform the act of being productive, for which the laptop is a prop. My experience has been that the people who gather at coffee shops to work are either self-employed or students. For some of these people, I'd imagine that they don't necessarily have the conventional workplaces in which to perform a productive self. In that case, it makes perfect sense for people who experience the pressure to work hard and be self-motivated to seek out places where they can receive some sort of validation, as well as a tacit camaraderie with others around them working under similar conditions.
posted by mariokrat at 8:28 PM on April 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


This was interesting. I've been avoiding the office recently because of some big thought-intensive projects, and have been camping out in various 'third places,' often in libraries. I almost posted an AskMe for suggestions for good third places in Philly.

Time sucks: Meetings. Email. Internet connections. Meetings. Other people. Meetings.

I have this on the lid of my laptop.
posted by carter at 8:30 PM on April 21, 2011


I feel too self-conscious as a dork with a computer at these places. Plus I feel obligated to spend money and am too poor to do that. =/
posted by curious nu at 8:33 PM on April 21, 2011


Bruised a finger favoriting Phire's comment. I work in typical American Cubistan, have for years, and I still can't come to terms with how ill-suited the environment is for doing actual work. As with so many offices, Facebook and Twitter are blocked. As is IM. I honestly think they'd forbid us email, if they could get away with it, and leave us to faxes and phone calls only. When they discovered I was accessing Dropbox (that's where I sync my to-do lists for, you know, work), blammo, that made the hit list too.

But three-hour meetings and endless conference calls and webinars and the lack of a door to close to shut out other people's chatting and radios and unannounced visits when I need to focus? Those are the real time sucks, the biggest hits to productivity, and corporate culture at most companies does zippo to address them.
posted by middleclasstool at 8:36 PM on April 21, 2011 [5 favorites]


This seems like an extremely narrow definition of 'work.' The job I do, and I'm certain the jobs that 86% of people do, couldn't be done in a coffeeshop, and not very well at home.
Maybe some people are just trying to justify their louche, self-indulgent lifestyles?
posted by Flashman at 9:02 PM on April 21, 2011 [7 favorites]


Because God forbid anyone indulge themselves. Get back to work, hippies! Those widgets aren't going to design, manufacture, market, purchase, ship, install, operate, or service themselves! Not for another five years or so, anyway.
posted by No-sword at 9:47 PM on April 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


Along those lines, I just cannot picture a day of work that doesn't require at least 10 phone calls, 10 face to face impromptu conversations (half about baseball/the weather/or what you did this weekend), and 1 formal meeting. Kudos to those who have escaped that cycle, but isn't it incredibly lonely?
posted by 2bucksplus at 9:47 PM on April 21, 2011


Perhaps, Flashman, and perhaps the remaining 14% are over-represented here. But I can tell you this: I used to work as a programmer PLUS tech-support person for my company. Getting into a "programming" head space is all about building up this mental structure and a sequence of logic; it's like getting a bunch of plates up and spinning and precariously balanced on sticks. It takes time and focus to achieve, and sustained concentration to keep going. As soon as your attention is diverted away from that task, all the plates come crashing down and you have to start all over getting them back up and spinning. If I worked for 20 minutes on a programming task, then got interrupted by a 5-minute phone call, then programmed for another 10, then had to answer another 5- or 10-minute call, then programmed for another 15 minutes before yet another call impinged on my concentration, my total useful productive programming time for that period was...about 20 minutes.

I freely grant that, as you point out, not everybody's job is like that. But some peoples' jobs definitely are.
posted by Greg_Ace at 9:49 PM on April 21, 2011 [9 favorites]


Couple people have said "what is this video before I commit 15min to watch it (btw reading & replying to this thread is no problem)," and "if I get interrupted I have to start my day's work all over again."

Seriously not trying to hate over here, but what fields are you guys in? Because down here in entry-level "Human Capital" land, we can expect to be interrupted unannounced for anywhere from 5 to 90 minutes a time (sometimes multiple times in a day, other times once a month, with no pattern) and not only be expected to resume right where we left off, but to make up the lost time by working that much harder for the remainder of our shift. And we certainly aren't allowed internet access during the workday.

Where did I fuck up along the way to wind up in the latter kind of job instead of the former, and what if anything can I do to remedy this personal failing?
posted by Hiding From Goro at 9:50 PM on April 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


If it's any solace, Hiding from Goro, the original post came at the end of my work day, and I waited until after work (as well as after Phire's summary post) to watch the video.
posted by Greg_Ace at 9:54 PM on April 21, 2011


Those widgets aren't going to design, manufacture, market, purchase, ship, install, operate, or service themselves!

I don't want to sell anything, buy anything, or process anything as a career. I don't want to sell anything bought or processed, or buy anything sold or processed, or process anything sold, bought, or processed, or repair anything sold, bought, or processed. You know, as a career, I don't want to do that.
posted by kirkaracha at 9:56 PM on April 21, 2011 [14 favorites]


total management material!
posted by The Whelk at 10:02 PM on April 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


Last night I attended a "Beer&&Code* event in Capitol Hill, Seattle. I'm working on a new game this week and got a lot of progress done during the event, despite alcohol consumption. Not only that, it was in a loud bar, that played a Black Eyed Peas song at one point.

Not sure what made for the productivity. Shared environment, plus a little pressure to show off.
posted by hellojed at 10:04 PM on April 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


I want to clarify that I didn't necessarily think that Fried's suggestions were silly per se, but rather that they seemed like they would be ineffectually implemented. Cancel meetings? Easier said than done. Only the first suggestion is really concrete.

Of course, not all work can be done in Laptopistan. But it's pretty uncharitable to suggest that we're all just indulging in lazy idolatry. Hell, forget coding or writing, even tracing receipts for financial auditing has its own rhythm and logic that would take time to rebuild, if interrupted at the wrong spot. Managers coming up with next year's strategy book hour-long meetings that no one must interrupt, for fear of disrupting their thought flow, but they interrupt their own employees all the time. From a business standpoint, that's just a waste of time.

Of course, strategizing or auditing certainly aren't things you could do at the coffee shop, but the principle of leaving people alone to do the job you pay them to do stands.
posted by Phire at 10:39 PM on April 21, 2011


I feel bad for baristas because they actually have to do their best work in coffeehouses.
posted by twoleftfeet at 11:26 PM on April 21, 2011 [4 favorites]


I've been a telecommuter for five years. There is NO WAY I could spend the whole day at home, especially as I live alone. Well, alone with two cats. One of whom has to be repeatedly removed from my keyboard, the other endlessly whining to be petted, while I am trying to lead my web seminars and be all professional and stuff.

Yeah, around 2PM I will need human contact pretty freakin' badly and I go to one of those coffeeshops and become a coffee-sippin', bagel-eatin' laptop zombie. But I really do get a lot done. It's the background buzz. I get even more done at airports.
posted by medeine at 11:37 PM on April 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


I think this suggestion has a lot of merit and should be further explored. Butchers could start slaughtering their cattle in their local Starbucks, grave diggers could excavate under the quiet tables in the corner, infantrymen could practice firing anti-tank missiles into the pot plants and every couple of hours everyone could stop for a relaxing "latte e biscotti" and chat about sexism in Star Wars and their highest score in Minecraft and the best therapist in San Fransisco for cats.
posted by joannemullen at 12:14 AM on April 22, 2011 [7 favorites]


As I got ready to quit my previous job and become self-employed, I looked forward to becoming one of those people who sits in a coffee shop all day, working and sipping delicious chocolatey milky coffee-based beverages that MeFites would sneer at as not being "real coffee".

Turns out, I can't work in coffee shops. I tried once. About 5 minutes after finishing my coffeething, I got self-conscious about taking up a chair and preventing other people from being able to sit. After about 10 minutes, my concentration was totally shot, eyes flicking up constantly to see if the people receiving their mochalmondoublespressos were getting them to go, or waiting for one of us assholes with computers to leave. So I left. I guess if there were a coffee shop nearby that was never, ever empty, I could work there, but I haven't seen a coffee shop that empty in years.

Surprisingly, though, I can get a ton of work done at home, despite being surrounded by distractions. Deadlines are helpful that way.
posted by Bugbread at 12:35 AM on April 22, 2011


Coffee shops with WiFi have coffee, sometimes they have nice food, the one I like to go to the most has books, the next favorite has some foods with a protein content.

When I did work at a job, working at home meant my boss could call me nonstop. When I worked in the office there were the meetings.

No self respecting coffee shop would EVER contain my old boss. :)

If you are any good at your job, being micromanaged gets in the way of working.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 12:41 AM on April 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


Why some of us get more done at coffee shops.
posted by brenton at 1:04 AM on April 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


Why work doesn't happen at work.

I somehow doubts that's true for janitors, construction workers, factory workers and so on. This "Theory of modern work" stuff is really about "Theory of modern work for really rich people who have no idea how the rest of society operates"
posted by delmoi at 3:11 AM on April 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


delmoi: I think it's clear that we're all talking about certain subsets of work here, not ones where you need to be physically present. No need to be deliberately inflammatory.

I run a company which has a reasonably nice office, but I often find myself in town in between meetings and needing to get some work done. Usually the only place where I can do this properly is a cafe. I've found that I'm often very productive in these situations; maybe it's just because it's a new environment, maybe it's because I'm only working for a short period of time and so there's an artificial deadline.

But the 'Just Enough Distraction' theory in the Atlantic article really chimes with me. I think it's quite difficult, rare, and arguably unnatural for us to be purely focused on a single, non-physical task, for extended periods of time; I feel like the brain craves different kinds of stimulation.

When you're on your own in an office with no other stimulation than your work, the only way to satisfy that craving is to open Facebook or visit Metafilter, and then BANG you've lost half an hour. However, if you're in a cafe and you need a little bit of stimulation, you can just look up and watch the world for a few seconds or a minute, and then get back to it. I actually think it'd be worth some cognitive psychologists looking into this (maybe they already have).
posted by adrianhon at 3:20 AM on April 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


When you're on your own in an office with no other stimulation than your work, the only way to satisfy that craving is to open Facebook or visit Metafilter, and then BANG you've lost half an hour. However, if you're in a cafe and you need a little bit of stimulation, you can just look up and watch the world for a few seconds or a minute, and then get back to it. I actually think it'd be worth some cognitive psychologists looking into this (maybe they already have).

Or you could just have some discipline and not satisfy every craving you have. I'm sure there's plenty of facebooking and metafiltering going on at coffeeshops.
posted by headnsouth at 4:28 AM on April 22, 2011


As with so many offices, Facebook and Twitter are blocked.

Several years ago, I worked at an office with an obnoxiously strict internet use policy. Websites with anything remotely "offensive" were blocked, and the "this website has been blocked" page informed you that your web use was being reported, and it actually played an alarm sound so everyone in a twenty-foot radius knew you were trying to look at something that might have had the word "sex" in it or whatever. Even if you weren't looking at anything offensive, you weren't supposed to go online for anything. At one point I got a scathing email, with my manager cc'd, about how someone noticed I was, horrors, surfing the web, and if I had downtime I should ask for more work.

It's probably no surprise that this is also an office where I was constantly criticized for my outfits (not super-polished, but work-appropriate) and encouraged to wear suits, even though we were in a depressingly shabby part of the building and never saw anyone resembling a client, and some of my coworkers wore pink sweatsuits, and they really didn't pay anywhere near enough for me to afford a professional wardrobe. Oh, and we had an hour for lunch, and it was a scheduled hour and we had to take it away from our desk, no exceptions, and the law says we have to have two fifteen-minute breaks, so you have to leave your desk for fifteen minutes twice a day.

With my time so closely watched and strictly regulated, did I give them eight and a half hours of my best? Nope. I started drawing comics at my desk.

Years later, in a different job, I telecommuted for six months. No one was watching, but I put in extra hours regularly, sometimes on the weekends. The work was right there, and they trusted me, and since the company rarely allowed remote employees I wanted to prove myself worthy of the privilege.

People live up or down to expectations. Give them time, space, and trust, and they'll get things done. Give them bullshit, and you'll get bullshit back.
posted by Metroid Baby at 5:04 AM on April 22, 2011 [14 favorites]


Yes, re: delmoi's comment, we are talking about a certain kind of "work" here, and to me that kind of work is as foreign as anything else to me. Decades ago, I temped in an office now and then, but that kind of place is like Dilbertstan to me now. I work in a classroom now, and obviously have to be physically there at all times. I wish I did have other adults to drop by and talk about the weather or make sarcastic comments about work or the government or something, but part of the difficulty of the job is being the Only Grownup in the Room. (And enforcing Grown-Up behavior, like working all the time. Well, fairy-tale grown-up behavior, apparently!)
posted by kozad at 5:06 AM on April 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


This "Theory of modern work" stuff is really about "Theory of modern work for really rich people who have no idea how the rest of society operates"
This.
Which, coincidentally, pretty-much sums-up my reaction to about 95% of anything posted with "TED" attached to the description.
posted by Thorzdad at 5:09 AM on April 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


I have a special place in my heart for articles like these. My all-time-fave was a Guardian article in the UK. It had a picture of people sitting on the beach with their 3G enabled-laptops. The headline 'Is this the future of work?'. Well maybe if work is writing fatuous articles for a rapidly declining paper it is.

The multitude of deluded fucks with their oh so important work that MUST GET DONE over a flat white on a gleaming Macbook Pro in a cafe. There is, undoubtedly, a proportion of people who do work like that but the vast majority of the people I've seen are sitting on Facebook, looking at youtube all the fucking time or pretend working on their latest manuscript that no one will ever have the faintest desire to read.

No one would notice if 99% of these people's work never saw the light of day but if we never got our garbage picked up or bakers went on strike you'd know all about it.

A priveleged, conceited notion of 'work'.

Or maybe I am pissed off about fuckers that think cos they've spent a measly £5 on a coffee and a fucking cake that they are entitled to sit in a cafe from dawn til fucking dusk mooching wi-fi when proper paying customers (like me) can't get a fucking seat and a cuppa for half an hour.
posted by ClanvidHorse at 5:33 AM on April 22, 2011 [5 favorites]


Good lord, do the people in that slideshow ever look Serious! Look at all that Serious work being done! Not pictured: anyone having fun. I guess work sucks no matter where you're doing it.

That said, I admire this coffee shop's apparent ablilty to enforce this: "Keep quiet" is the appropriately unspoken rule." The article doesn't say anything about cell phones, but if they're actually able to keep people from talking on their phones indoors I may quit my job as a public librarian and move there to work as a server.
posted by The Card Cheat at 5:51 AM on April 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


The resentment from labors to knowledge workers is delicious. Almost as delicious as this iced mocha latte I'm sipping on.
posted by Mick at 5:51 AM on April 22, 2011 [6 favorites]


The total ubiquity of coffee-shop-as-temporary-office-space is a little bothersome to me as someone who likes to go to coffee shops to sit and drink a cup of coffee and read a magazine for ten minutes. It is literally impossible to go into any coffee shop around here during the day and find a table that isn't occupied by someone with a MacBook. (Actually, my local coffee shops previously included the Red Horse Cafe, cited in the NYT article, where my experience was substantially the same as the author's, glares for speaking above a whisper and all.) The trend has a certain hostile takeover feel, I wonder how the owners and employees at these establishments feel about it.
posted by dixiecupdrinking at 6:11 AM on April 22, 2011


knowledge worker [nä-lij wər-kər] -noun (Hipsterism) 1. Wage slave who supplies his own coffee, work space, computer, etc.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:27 AM on April 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


Apparently NYC & San Fran's top barristas now tend to go to a 'third place' and walk into a cube filled office and just make coffees in order to work.

They find the appreciation of the coffees by the cubistan dwellers to be far and away more genuine than the Macbook lugging hipsters that inhabit their cafes during the day.
posted by sien at 6:46 AM on April 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


People live up or down to expectations.

Yep. Trust me to do the work and I'll do it. Guard dog me the whole time and I'll do the minimum. While looking for the door.
posted by middleclasstool at 7:04 AM on April 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


The coffee shop article cites writers who find pleasure and productivity in working amidst civic bustle. I think there's a deeper reason: the café as scenery allays the solipsism of a solitary vocation. They want a place, too. When I study at home, it feels private & secluded; when I study in the library, I enter the social stage as a student — which feels meaningful. That's an enviable aspect of public vocations: garbageman, librarian, bus driver. You get to work in the civic zone. You can run into friends. You're directly part of the city community; it wouldn't work without you. Private work seems more alienating.

This phenomenon seems more and more like a timely symptom... Nostalgia for civic community. We don't want Starbucks, we want Enlightenment coffee-houses! Or the cafés in Budapest that had a Writer's Menu with coffee, bread & and a stack of papers.

I bet if I weren't at home now I'd be working on my essay instead of thinking hard about this...
posted by mbrock at 7:18 AM on April 22, 2011 [5 favorites]


Or you could just have some discipline and not satisfy every craving you have. I'm sure there's plenty of facebooking and metafiltering going on at coffeeshops.

What adrianhon said makes sense to me. I find it really hard to concentrate on one thing at a time. When I work at home, I have some music playing loudly, I get into the flow and I work pretty hard. At work, I find myself needing to zone out from what can be mundane and repetitive work, and I check MeFi or Facebook and it's a time suck. I'm more productive at home, even though it's slower and less efficient to dial in remotely than to work in the office. May well be different for other people, that's how it is for me.
posted by Infinite Jest at 7:25 AM on April 22, 2011


Co-work spaces are pretty cool for this. We have one downtown called Treehaus where you rent a desk and get free wifi and (I would hope) coffee and can hang out with other people who are actually working and not shooting the shit. Although maybe shooting the shit is working?
posted by seanmpuckett at 7:37 AM on April 22, 2011


I'm fairly certain that one of the top reasons many people get more work done at coffee houses than at home is because you can't masturbate in the coffee house.

You must be the guy in the cube next to me. Please ... stop.

The resentment from labors to knowledge workers is delicious. Almost as delicious as this iced mocha latte I'm sipping on.

What makes you think that there are any actual laborers posting here? I'm as knowledge-workery as one can be, but everything said here about the comparative value of "knowledge work" vs other sorts of labor is entirely true.
posted by me & my monkey at 8:12 AM on April 22, 2011


I can tell you that working from home with three kids is impossible. I'd love to go to a coffee shop to get some work done, but my dear lovely partner is at an appointment and working at a coffee shop with three kids is MORE IMPOSSIBLE

Lucky DINK's
posted by roboton666 at 8:42 AM on April 22, 2011


...modern work for really rich people who have no idea how the rest of society operates

Ever heard of the service economy? Knowledge workers? Technology allowing one person to do what used to require ten? These are real demographic shifts we're talking about, not random buzzwords - go ahead - google away. For better or for worse, (I vote worse, but thats a different discussion), this "rest of society" is getting smaller and poorer, and what you're seeing is an emerging demographic reinvent work to fit circumstances that didn't exist 20 years ago.
posted by tempythethird at 9:41 AM on April 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


I've been working primarily at coffeeshops for going on 4 years now. Aside from the lack-of-home-distractions advantage, they let me be around other people without actually having to interact with them. That's huge. It's like social white noise.
posted by gottabefunky at 9:57 AM on April 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


HEY GUYS

GUYS

BRAIN SURGEONS CAN'T DO BRAIN SURGERY IN A STARBUCKS

ROCKET SCIENTISTS COULD MAYBE DO THEIR ROCKET SCIENCE MATH IN A STARBUCKS BUT THEN THEY HAVE TO BUILD AND LAUNCH THE ROCKETS AND YOU CAN'T BUILD AND LAUNCH A ROCKET IN A STARBUCKS I'M PRETTY SURE SOMETHING ABOUT THE ZONING

GRAR HIPSTERS GRAR CUTE STICKERS ON LAPTOPS GRAR FIVE BUCKS FOR SHITTY COFFEE GRAR GRAR GRAR

There. Are we done now?
posted by Halloween Jack at 10:01 AM on April 22, 2011 [8 favorites]


I'm a lucky DINK and home with just an intermittently attention-hungry cat beats a coffeehouse.
posted by Zed at 10:04 AM on April 22, 2011


I write for a living, but I do it at home. I can't get the concentration I need at a coffee shop. Too distracting.

I'm always startled on those rare occasions when I drop in on the nearest Starbucks (in the next town over) during the work day. That place is rockin'! It's packed wall to wall with people who are ostensibly working, but seem mostly to be having a blast socializing with each other. It's like the grown-up version of Denny's on a Friday night in the 1980s.

So, are people going to Starbucks with their laptops during the work day? Absolutely. Are they getting any work done? Not that I have observed! They sure do look like they're having fun, though!
posted by ErikaB at 10:18 AM on April 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


I don't get why people are being so hostile to the idea that there is work that can be done in coffee shops. It's not really revolutionary or anything, and I don't see in the articles (haven't watched the TED talk yet) that anyone is saying that people who have work that can be done in coffee shops are somehow better than people who do not have work that can be done in coffee shops.

But there's several snide comments in this thread as to the rarefied, rich population this obviously unimportant "work" must refer to. Obviously no one assumes mailmen or firefighters can work in coffee shops. The implicit assumption is that "to work on a computer in a coffee shop" one's work must be on a computer in the first place. According to a brief Google, in 2005, the percentage of people in the U.S. that made up this knowledge worker class was about 28%. In Drucker's book from 2007, it's estimated at 33%. I've seen more recent estimates for as high as 50% (though I'm hesitant to believe that). While not the majority, it's a significant, growing proportion of the population, unlike the rich upper class. It's normal people, who happen to work on computers. So why the hate? I thought it was a totally innocuous post.

(Disclaimer: I am a knowledge worker. I hate the term knowledge worker. I don't own a Mac and I don't work in coffee shops, I work in an office.)
posted by wending my way at 11:01 AM on April 22, 2011 [4 favorites]


I'm a lucky DINK and home with just an intermittently attention-hungry cat beats a coffeehouse.

Lucky indeed. My cat's a damn micromanager. He looks over my shoulder, calls impromptu meetings, and demands constant updates on the Who's The Best Kitty account.
posted by Metroid Baby at 12:30 PM on April 22, 2011 [6 favorites]


I don't want to go to a coffee shop where talking is frowned upon, and people stare into glowing rectangles. This is anathema to me. I am repelled by the very idea of such places and avoid them if I step into them.

I have a big glowing rectangle at home, another one at the office, and a little one in my purse. If I go to a coffee shop, it's to meet someone, have a good conversation over a delicious cup of coffee or tea and get away from The Cloud.
posted by seawallrunner at 1:21 PM on April 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


I don't want to go to a coffee shop where talking is frowned upon

As a previous officially classified "mobile worker" and now a consultant, I work wherever - often at coffee shops. I have yet to find one where talking is frowned on - across north america.

Actually, my experience has been just the opposite - I've met many new and interesting people, friends and contacts at coffee shops.

The nature of my work is such that sometimes I do not need "epic" focus, but instead am following up on queries/items via email - which can be done pretty much anywhere, and a "fluid" environment is often more helpful. (Otherwise, I tend to over analyze my responses)

It's actually very funny to see some of the attitudes in this thread - laptops are for the rich? Really? Since when? Last I checked, we are pretty much living in "the future" - heck some companies give away netbooks as a promo... We have touch-screen tablets and internet connectivity nearly anywhere, if our work does not require in-person meetings, why not work wherever?

I do have a strict moral code though - I make a point of buying stuff at a cafe/coffee-shop every hour - even if I end up tucking it away to give to my kids later - and I tip very well - and if it gets extremely busy, I leave and find another. Next, I try to support non-chains or local/independants wherever possible. And finally - often I look for ones without WiFi - but with power, so I can turn in "epic" focus tasks as needed.
posted by jkaczor at 3:10 PM on April 22, 2011 [3 favorites]


The floor presents an obstacle course of power cables snaking their way around coffee cups, over chairs, and around table legs, eventually finding a home in one of two power strips that look as though they came from a Soviet coal refinery. Whenever a plug is inserted, the outlet sparks, and certain movements can cause all the plugs on a given strip to simultaneously eject.

That's so beautiful.
posted by herbplarfegan at 3:29 PM on April 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


Metafilter: because you can't masturbate in the coffee house.
posted by herbplarfegan at 3:37 PM on April 22, 2011


I've been self-employed for over five years now, and I know that everyone is different and all that, but I can't help but feel that those of you who prefer a coffeeshop to working at home are insane.

Leaving aside the considerations of having all my stuff exactly where I want it, set up how I want it, and ready for use at any time I feel like ... why on earth are you people voluntarily putting yourself in situations where you HAVE TO WEAR CLOTHING?

It makes no sense to me.
posted by kyrademon at 7:41 AM on April 23, 2011 [3 favorites]


Kyrademon: I totally agree. I only have done the coffeeshop thing when I've had to meet other people for NaNoWriMo and need the group space. I wouldn't even bother to get dressed, pack up the computer, leave the house, and pay $5 for an expensive small drink just to rent a table elsewhere for myself. I also don't get this logic for people who want to sit at a table and drink coffee and read the newspaper either.

And speaking of: I live in a college town. There was VERY BRIEFLY a cafe where the owner wanted to force people not to use laptops and to only sit and drink beverages. It went out of business very quickly. There is another cafe in town that has the front row of tables ONLY designated for sitting and reading the newspaper. That cafe is always irritatingly full, except for those damn four tables where you can't do anything. I gotta say, sitting and reading at a cafe is passe now. Sorry.

Anyhoo, back to what I was originally going to post... I think the point of forcing everyone to work in an office is that you CAN and WILL be interrupted. If you serve the public, which most businesses are gonna do one way or another, you need to have open hours where people know exactly where you are and that you can be bothered in person, by e-mail, or phone. (That way after 5 p.m. your time is your own.) I am "on call" during the 8-5 hours for that reason, not because they only need me to churn out data entry or whatever during that time. If the point of work was for me to type up papers or whatever, then they wouldn't bother to have me come in in person (except for security reasons, sigh), I could just do 200 widgets a day, send them in from anywhere, and nobody needs to rent office space. But that's not how it works. The point is the interruptions. And in the case of meetings, knowing that all of the people you need to have meet are forced to be in the building from 8-5, which makes it easier to get them all together to discuss the widgets.

This is why the future of work will not be laptopistan, at least for a good chunk of us.
posted by jenfullmoon at 11:42 AM on April 23, 2011 [3 favorites]


The coffee house work environment might be great for a semi-break for an hour or so. But whenever I've tried to get any real work done there, it usually coincides with the time when some asshole decides that it's A-OK to use a shared wifi connection to watch whatever on Netflix while his p2p software is slurping 5,000 different things back and forth simeltaneously.
posted by dantsea at 3:58 PM on April 23, 2011


sitting and reading at a cafe is passe now. Sorry.

I like sitting and reading at cafés. Happily, I'm entirely used to being passé!
posted by Zed at 11:17 AM on April 25, 2011


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