damn campers!

Coffeeshop Turns off Wi-Fi on Weekends:

"Over the past year it seems that nobody talks to each other any more," she said. On the weekends, 80 to 90 percent of tables and chairs are taken up by people using computers. Many laptop users occupy two or more seats by themselves, as well. [...] Worse than just the sheer number of laptop users, Strongin noted, is that many of these patrons will camp six to eight hoursand not buy anything. This seemed astounding to me, but she said that it was typical, not unusual.

They've gone two weekends with no Wi-Fi, and so far, they're pleased with the results. The staff "loves it," she said, and regular customers are "coming up to us and thanking us." They have received a few nasty emails. But Strongin said that last Sunday was one of the best revenue days they've had on the weekends in a while.

Strongin says that Victrola isn't interested in charging for Wi-Fi as a tool to limit or moderate use [...] but, she said, "I don't like going into a cafe, any cafe, including my own, and just seeing a sea of laptops and people not interacting."

(Note: if you're about to post here about your favorite idea for a technical solution to this social problem, please go do so on Slashdork instead. Your compatriots have that covered already.)


A local computer store recently removed their free internet cafe -- and when the employees were told about this, they all cheered! It turns out that the only people who ever used it were campers: a few kids who would sit there all day playing networked games, but primarily stinky homeless people.

Also, a friend who works there tells me that 80% of the people using the computers were on online dating sites. 80%! That's pretty creepy. What does it mean?? Are all these people cheating on their spouses, or what?

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31 Responses:

  1. phoenixredux says:

    If 80% of them are on dating sites, maybe they should turn off their laptops, look around, and hookup with their fellow patrons. The problem with that is they'll end up breeding a new generation of campers.

    • jwz says:

      Your theory only works if you assume that the people in question aren't 99% heterosexual males.

      • phoenixredux says:

        Straight people are too limited in their options. Clearly, the answer is to eliminate hetrosexuality. If everyone were bi, there wouldn't be problems like that anymore.

  2. It also means that 80% of those people were lonely but would sooner look to the internet to find someone rather than talking to the person sitting right next to them... who is also looking for that same thing on the internet.

    • pavel_lishin says:

      Hey, whatever works for them. People without social skills not breeding? It's like selection of the, uh, something or other.

      I don't know where I was going with this comment.

    • pir_anha says:

      see, it makes sense to me that they would do so, on several levels. i'll just quickly mention some of the aspects that apply to me: i am ever so much better at writing about things that interest me than i am at talking about it to total strangers sitting next to me -- they might after all not care one whit for the same things. i've also not actually been lonely most of my life, even when i've been alone -- i like being alone; i am not particularly social. i enjoy interacting with people only when they're particularly interesting to me, and i want to do so at all sorts of odd times, and 3 am is not usually a good time for finding like-minded strangers out in public places -- if the sidewalks haven't been rolled up already at 5 pm, like in my local downtown.

      besides, it seems inefficient to try and pick my partners by physical proximity. what's really important is intellectual and emotional compatibilty, and then we can solve the physical aspects in some way. it makes little sense to me to start with physical proximity; i grew up in a total hicksville with religious zealots all around me. the net is a much better place to find compatible people than my local café, being as i am not a particularly mainstream kind of person. i also don't mind long-distance relationships (see above as to liking to be alone). ergo, the net has been a perfect place for me to find friends, and some of those friends have become partners.

      that said, dating sites -- *ugh*. never go there. my online social life springs from usenet.

      social ineptitude is another myth about people who find partners online. even most of the geekiest geeks i know have social graces; it's just that there is more than one set to be had.

  3. fnoo says:

    This sort of thing worries me a lot, actually. My favourite wifi-enabled cafe is e55 in Melbourne, and fortunately it isn't 90% full of laptops. If you sit down with your lappy and not buy something, one of the staff will venture out behind the bar and ask "Would you like something?" in that special "if you don't buy something you have to leave" way they have of asking. 'course, I always buy something on principal, on account of leeching their 'net.

    But that's not the point. The point is that the number of wifi users over there is so high it means that instead of places like this being a comfy place to kick back, chat on irc and write some code while groups of people drink beer and have a chat around you, they become full of likeminded geeks starting at screens.

    Instead of a friendly social environment with a couple of laptops around the place you get a cube-farm without the cubes. Y'know, just like work. Which would suck.

    • edlang says:

      This is where the table service v. counter service issue comes into play.
      Here, in Canberra, most of the better cafes -- the ones most likely to
      offer wifi -- are table service so there's really very little option not
      to order something. All the crappy cafes make you line up and order at the
      counter. (Aside from the Purple Pickle at ANU, which is good cafe that
      benefits from the campus wifi network: I think they just don't trust uni
      students to honourably pay.)

    • jwz says:

      I remember the first time I wandered in to an "internet cafe", in like 1997 or so -- it was not what I was expecting. Based on the name, I was expecting "cafe, with computers." But what it actually was was "blindingly bright terminal room, with espresso." It was about as cozy as Kinko's. I couldn't imagine spending any amount of time there on a non-emergency footing.

      • gths says:

        In my experience internet cafes seem to be "blindingly dark" instead. But the effect is the same...

  4. Alienating your (less desirable) customers is always profitable.

    • msjen says:

      I had to stop going to cafes with internet access in the past couple of months so I could actually *work.*

  5. I completely believe those numbers.

    Towards the end of the dot-com crash, I ended up working the "self-serve" computers at Kinko's - the Kinko's in San Francisco which called itself "the Zoo", at Market and Upper Safeway, in a converted funeral home. I'd been hired on a promise of desktop publishing work, but most of my job ended up being "please keep people from utterly destroying the crappy rental machines".

    People *paid* to use these machines; this was before Wi-Fi cafes. And yet, the customer base was at least 65% dating sites, porn or worse. In the evening shift, it was higher. Mornings we'd get the desperate job-hunters checking their emails and Monster.com and Craigslist and so on, printing out a few resumes. Frequently, we'd get ignoramuses trying to do some sort of desktop publishing - make their own business cards or resume or menu or whatever - with varying degrees of success - after deciding the fees we charged them were too high, who then got angry when we wouldn't practically do it for them when they asked for help. Those sucked, but the homeless whackos were the absolute best. I am incredibly grateful I never got stuck on night shift there, but some of what I had to clean off the computers the next morning - from porn spyware to physical stickies - was filthy.

    When I interviewed for a job doing phone support to get me out of that pit, I was asked if I could handle "problem customers" on the phones. I laughed a little hysterically and said "On the *phone*? You mean they can't spit on me, punch me, or throw malt liquor over me? I can't *smell* them? Haha! Sure, that's *easy!" The interviewer looked a little startled and asked where I'd been working again? in a tone that suggested she was wondering if my previous employer was Tech Help for the Dangerously Insane, which, well, it often was.

  6. jesus_x says:

    Maybe I'm backwards and old fashioned, but I just couldn't do that. Even in bookstores without the free Internet, I just can't sit in the cafe reading. I buy a drink, or a muffin, or SOMETHING, and I don't sit there for an entire workday. That's completely abusing the offer. It's like Halloween when the house left out a big bowl with a sign that said "Take one", and the first three kids took it ALL. This is a huge reason behind corporate hardons for DRM, because the percentage of people who will steal from you increases directly with the ease of the theft. In this case, they're taking up room paying customers would use so they can leech wifi. Running a public business, I'm sure jwz is familiar with the human leech phenomenon, which is only mildly less annoying than the bathroom raiders and spray taggers. Why are people such dirtbags?

  7. ciphergoth says:

    Why are these people going to a cafe for this purpose rather than doing it at home? How can there be so many people who can afford laptops but not broadband?

    • ammitbeast says:

      Why are these people going to a cafe for this purpose rather than doing it at home?

      They want to get out of the house and visit someplace with people 'cuz only losers snarf porn and cruise datepits while home alone.

      Jesus. Visit a cafe so you can not buy coffee and ignore everyone around you? What better way to prove membership in the brotherhood of geek losers?

      Bet you some of those campers are in IM or IRC with each other and don't know it.

      • ciphergoth says:

        Wait 'till sxilady69 finds out that __slutgrrl__ is the guy sitting next to him...

      • fnoo says:

        Jesus. Visit a cafe so you can not buy coffee and ignore everyone around you?

        That's really nothing new. The goths and indiesnobs were doing it way before the geeks were.

    • Broadband connections don't "fall off a truck", but laptops do?

    • davidmccabe says:

      "It is better to live in the corner of an Internet cafe than in a house with a quarrelsome, wife."
      -- the Bible.

      ... Hmm. Been to long since sunday school, I guess.

    • geektalk says:

      Why are these people going to a cafe for this purpose rather than doing it at home?

      I work primarily from home and an office downtown of which I am the only occupant. And I tell you, it gets LONELY. Even the minimal interactions you get at a coffee shop are better than sitting in a room by myself. And I find the distractions at a busy downtown coffee shop are helpful.

      I'm not a dick, though. I never stay longer than an hour or two, and I make sure to spend $5 an hour (which can be a pain since I don't drink coffee, so I have to buy things I don't particularly want like weird specialty drinks and pastries).

      But I can understand the reasoning, anyway.

  8. agentcooper says:

    I live a few blocks from the coffee shop in question. Let me just say: WiFi has nothing to do with it. Even without the computers, coffee shops are where people in Seattle go to be alone together. Close the laptops and you'd still have two dozen people sitting alone ignoring each other.

    This notion that people would "interact randomly" or otherwise be social is a fucking pipe dream. People in this city do NOT approach strangers to strike up conversations, least of all in a coffee shop where everyone's sober and everyone's watching.

  9. hepkitten says:

    I miss sfnet. the internet ghetto.

  10. gths says:

    Also, a friend who works there tells me that 80% of the people using the computers were on online dating sites. 80%! That's pretty creepy. What does it mean?? Are all these people cheating on their spouses, or what?

    I dunno, but perhaps it hasn't struck them that they share an interest in staring at laptops with their fellow (non-)customers and should actually stand up and crack onto one of them. Unless they're all blokes, of course...

  11. tjic says:

    A local computer store recently removed their free internet cafe...It turns out that the only people who ever used it were ... primarily stinky homeless people.

    Not to sound like an EEEEeevil Republican or anything, but does anyone else see the irony in someone who is running their life in a manner such that they can't afford a share in an apartment, but is lugging around a laptop with a wireless card?

    • prog says:

      I had made the assumption that, being a computer store, it provided its own desktops for this purpose.

    • rrm3 says:

      Not at all. A laptop with a wireless card can be had for just the price of a wireless card in my town by volunteering at the local computer recycling center or hanging around the dump. Having spent this past winter homeless, by my own choice, I came across several peers with laptops. They generally weren't stinky though. The stinky ones are those who piss and shit in their pants and can't seem to find the free showers.

  12. ambar says:

    Mishka's in Davis manages this by setting aside 4 tables in the front for "absolutely NO schoolwork, grading papers, computer use," etc. The rest of the place is jammed, morning to night, with Davis students (usually, but not always, laptop-enabled). They're also pretty generous with the power outlets.

    Dana St. Roasting Co in Mountain View took out all the power outlets and kept the wifi free. That seems to work -- the geeking is limited to the length of one's batter(y)(ies).

  13. fantasygoat says:

    This begs the questions, what's the status on the club's free internet access? How does your experience compare to this article?

    • jwz says:

      As far as I can tell, it only ever gets used during the day, by promoters and bands during set-up. We don't do the kind of events where people bring laptops with them (unless they're on stage pretending to play).

  14. lelumarie says:

    I guess my city isn't the biggest in the world, but really--
    1. all the shops are foremost coffee shops. the Wi is and always will be second here. there is no such thing as an internet cafe. i like it that way.
    2. i have never seen anyone using the Wi for anything but business or scholarly purposes--is it the small city, college city, or just plain normalness of the area? i dunno.
    3. all people i see are constantly drinking a cup of something or eating--the whole time they are there, no matter the numerous hours--AND it is a walk up counter (though i wish for table service heh)

    in any case, i found this jwz posting a bizarre one, but everyone else says typical--so who knows. then again, it isn't the Wi places that the homeless or other abusers go to here... it's the local or Univ. library! So it does exist, i guess just differently?