GONZALEZ: Getting rid of laptops relaxes cafe atmosphere

jasmune color sidedImagine walking into your favorite coffee shop, laptop in tow, ready to hunker down for a caffeine-fueled study session, only to realize that you cannot find an open Wi-Fi network in the area. In fact, as you look around, you realize you are the only one with a laptop out, and there is a sign above the door pronouncing this café as now “screen-free.”

Sound like a nightmare? For many of us, for whom places such as Starbucks or Colectivo have become habitual study spots, it just might. Today, the average coffee shop is considered a vital work hub for students and professionals alike. In fact, it is rare to see patrons at a coffee shop doing something other than working or studying. The idea of a coffee shop limiting access to free Wi-Fi seems unfathomable — bad for business, even.

But the Wi-Fi-less café is now a reality in cities across the nation, and perhaps there is more merit to it than we might think.

Earlier this year, August First Bakery & Café in Vermont became a screen-free establishment, cutting out free Wi-Fi service and implementing a ban on laptop computers, tablets and similar devices soon after. Since then, other coffee shops across the nation followed suit, offering Wi-Fi at a price or removing it entirely.

Owners of such places cite sales as their main motivator to limit Wi-Fi access. When potential customers walk into a coffee shop and see every table taken up, they are more likely to leave, without making a purchase.

It might seem like a radical shift, but in fact, these proprietors are bringing back the original culture of the coffee shop as a place to hang out and relax- not necessarily to do work.

In its original form, the coffee shop was intended to encourage social interaction, especially for travelers making stops between Europe and the Ottoman Empire in the 1600s. Individuals could stop, relax and share stories and ideas with fellow clientele. As coffeehouses popped up throughout Europe and the Americas, they became hotbeds for political debate and hangouts where local artists and writers could trade ideas freely.

We need time to hangout and take a break from work in our day. Studies continue to show taking short breaks to rest our brains helps us be more productive in the long run. The coffee shop on the corner may have once been the haven where students and workers could step away from their work and grab a re-energizing cup of joe. Today, however, it is a secondary office space, a spot where work not only follows us but demands our utmost attention.

And perhaps it is not just about coffee shops; just looking around campus, almost every space meant for recreation became a study space. Starbucks, the Brew and the Brooks Lounge are no longer sanctuaries where we can truly get away from our work and catch up with friends.

Maybe these Wi-Fi-less coffee shops are on to something. Maybe it is time we separate our work space from our play space. We are constantly called a nation of workaholics, and it does not help when every space we walk into seems to invite us to continue working and never take a break. The shift would not by any means be easy — I mean, this article was written, admittedly, in a Starbucks. Still, having a place on campus where work is not a priority, where we can simply relax is worth considering.