Temple Professor Bryant Simon Talks Cafe Wi-Fi Culture

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Earlier this week we linked to a story from the LA Times that said some California cafes were unplugging the Wi-Fi and some were even banning laptops, iPads and Kindles. The post infuriated some readers and others didn’t think it was so bad.

Jay Why wrote: “Unbelievable. So I can read a Sophie Kinsella paperback but not Charles Dickens on my e-reader in those coffeehouses? No New Yorker for iPad but the physical copy of the New Yorker is okay?”

Andy Warhouse commented: “If any of you commenters (so far) bothered to read the lead, the purpose is to make the cafe more social. In California, people talk to each other in cafes. At least many do. That’s my experience.”

We called a couple of the cafes and while we couldn’t find any places who specifically banned Kindles and iPads, we did find some one cafe owner who pulled the plug on free Wi-Fi to free up some seats during lunchtime.

Today we spoke to Bryant Simon, a history professor at Temple University history professor and author of Everything but the Coffee: Learning About America From Starbucks. He told us that turning off the Wi-Fi is a niche thing. “In my neighborhood a guy owns two cafes one has wi-fi and one doesn’t,” he said. “There are people that prefer each. But you can only do this in places where there are a lot of cafes.”


While Wi-Fi may be making its way out at some cafes that doesn’t mean that people will stop reading in cafes -in print or on eReaders. You don’t need a Wi-Fi connection to read on a Kindle or an iPad and it is very unlikely that cafe owners will kick people out who are reading on a digital device. “I can’t imagine anyone kicking you out for reading a Kindle,” Simon said.

Still Simon said that some cafes are looking to establish a more old school vibe. “There is a sense of going backwards and wanting to create a place with pretechnology era feel,” he said. “Some cafes have books, and physical newspapers and trying to create an older world.”

Simon went on to say: “I do think the issue here, in part, is this is about a push back against the ways of blackberries and iPads which have in some ways blurred the distinction between public and private space and between home and work.”

Simon also likes the social aspect of reading a print book in a cafe. “You can see what someone else is reading and have a conversation with them about it,” he said. “With a Kindle, how does anyone know what you are reading?”

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