When people sit in cafes with their laptops and other screened devices, sipping a poor excuse for amphetamine and chewing on invisible sugars, what percentage of that time do you think is spent floating around in the Wi-Fi ether? How much of “going to the coffee shop to work” is work, and how much is procrastination oscillating against distraction? Experience tells me that drift accounts for a significant portion of these sessions. My purely unscientific research puts the portion of effort spent disengaged in the task at hand at 63%. For college students, that number might jump up as high as 76%! We either don't really have enough to keep us productively occupied, or we just don't like to get to it. (Because getting to it means that “it” will inevitably be evaluated, and not starting down the path often seems easier than ending up at the other end of it. But that's a different topic.)
In their last issue, Willamette Week ran a story touting the ten best proletarian coffee shops in which to study. Their criteria for goodness included availability of fast Wi-Fi and an allowance to occupy a table for hours on end. The anti-virtuous locale in this exposé was Heart, on East Burnside and 22nd Avenue; the complaint being an abundance of wisdom about roasting, but too little warmth for the elite thinkers ostensibly invested in their labors. Given the figures in the non-study above, I applaud Heart for earning this distinction. They deserve even more kudos for something that Willamette Week didn't mention: they turn off their Wi-Fi on weekends.
Let me name my hypocrisy before someone else does. I love to sit in coffee shops for long stretches, doing very little that applies to my excuse for being there in the first place. All that science up above? That's all based on an estimate of my own historical habits. To wit: I've been sitting here, drinking iced coffee, surfing, and daydreaming for a couple of hours now under the pretense of composing this post. Guilty.
Still and all, my complaint about this pastime – and my concomitant admiration for Heart – is not really about lack of productivity. I actually believe that the circuitous route to a goal may often be the most fruitful. Mentally wandering around the periphery of an objective frequently builds associations that are impossible to see from the direct route. By all means, spend lots of time getting where you think you're going. It's merely that, if we are going to drift, then let's find venues that encourage us to drift together…live…in the flesh. I count ten of sixteen people in this present space living in relationship to a screen (yes, me, too). Some of them are sharing a table but living in entirely distinct virtual realms. Perhaps there are other people in other cafes on the other sides of all that Wi-Fi. Perhaps they are all over the world and indeed that's a miraculous thing that the Internet has done for us. But maintaining at least a little bit of live-and-in-person still holds value, and a lack of Wi-Fi may be a coffee shop's best attribute.
I prefer ‘gimme five’ to ‘high five’. Alhough I realize the former is very much out of fashion, it feels sincere to me. ‘High five’, on the other hand, always carries a ring of mockery bordering on bullying. There must have been a period during my youth – I’m guessing fifth or sixth grade, though no specific instance comes to mind – when I expressed joy about something considered nerdy, which was as out of fashion then as ‘gimme five’ is today. I vaguely recall a peer holding up his hand and saying with false enthusiasm, “High five!” Not getting that my love of Doctor Who or Epic graphic novels or Ultima IV or whatnot was the butt of the joke, I met the initiating palm with mine. Sometimes I probably punctuated the gesture with a, “Yeah!” At that moment, derisive laughter would ripple through the rest of the bodies present, leaving me bewildered. “You all do or you don’t love Dungeons & Dragons? Wait, where are you going?”
Today I proudly embrace my adolescent fondness for science fiction and comic books. Besides, the rise of comic-based movies into the mainstream, the popularity of serials like Firefly, even the Harry Potter craze have vindicated my youthful zeal for these fantasy-based entertainments, even if I don’t pay as much attention to them anymore. Still, when, in the course of every day interactions, someone raises up a hand – with regard to any topic – and demands, “high five,” I feel an instantaneous surge of disparagement and doubt about her/his intentions. Most of the time I recover quickly enough to get my hand up there, though my reciprocation is inevitably colored by skepticism. There is always a pause between the initiation of the celebration and my response, and occasionally, on particularly bad days, I just ‘leave ’em hanging’.
I’d like to get over this minor phobia. When presented with a genuinely excited ‘high five’, I’d like to respond with the same confidence that Maverick and Goose display in their very special ‘high five’, after scoring a volleyball spike on Iceman and Slider. But currently I think I’m muscling it a little too much. That is, when someone calls for a ‘high five’ these days, I sharpen my eyes and suck in my gut and say internally with as much conviction as a I muster, “High five, you son of a bitch!” Sometimes I may even say it out loud, I think. Silent or stated, the remark helps me power into that high five with no hesitation. Nevertheless, I’d be much more comfortable if we could just get back to the good old ‘gimme five’. Or ‘gimme ten’, even. Then we could give each other change, too.