One of the things I love about living in London is all the great cafes and coffee shops. Yesterday, the boyfriend and I went for brunch at Ozone. We’re both coffee obsessed, and love finding new places in London to frequent. Ozone was fun, open, and had great coffee. It was the perfect place for a relaxed brunch. Except for one thing…
Saturday mornings are for brunches and meanderings, not for work. At least, I would hope not. But sat beside us on the high counter in the back of the cafe were two friends (I assume) and one was on his laptop.
The glow from the screen was so bright it cast a blue haze over my (delicious) sweet potato and kale omelette. Every time my boyfriend turned to look at me, he spied what our neighbour was doing – using microsoft excel, with frequent breaks to look at FitBits. His tip-tapping and space-taking-up was a constant reminder of what we both spend our work week doing, not what we wanted to be thinking about during our first brunch our of 2016.
It got me thinking about our concept of personal space. All this portable technology has inbred in us a sense of ownership over public spaces, even when we have to share them with others. This lack of consideration for our neighbours comes out in all ways – not saying ‘excuse me’ when you bump into someone for looking at your mobile phone screen, taking up extra space on a very small counter with your various electronic items, even in avoiding conversation in a lift you share with your actual neighbours. All of these are now common place, and we accept them with an eye-roll or a passive-aggressive-very-British-annoyed sigh, but we don’t challenge them.
Having a whole world available at the touch of a screen has made us desensitised to the tangible world right around us – and out of touch with the people we’re simply physically near. I didn’t need to engage in conversation with my counter-top neighbour, but I did want to eat in peace – and not be reminded of the Monday swiftly approaching.
There are some cafes, like The Book Club in Shoreditch, or Cafe Minerva on Bank Street in NYC, where laptops are prohibited at certain hours. I think this is a great rule. And I say this as someone who spends most of her time writing in coffee shops! I spent years searching for the perfect place – with the right number of sockets, the speediest WiFi, etc. But there are times that aren’t for work – like weekend brunches.
So in my opinion, it’s best we not treat all public spaces like our own living rooms; whether that means stopping your children from running rampant, or keeping your dog by your seat, or turning off your laptop during brunch. And if we still choose to not make eye-contact in the lift, at least it’s a choice… and not a default because we’re too busy on that last level of Two Dots.