Thursday, September 24, 2009
OK not JUST Bloggers. Basically anyone with a laptop buying a cup of coffee and sitting for two hours and just taking space (electricity and internet bandwidth too.) Some cafes are definitely shooing away customers loitering with laptops. Now that the economy has turned down and every table and seat is a potential cash cow. First cafes shut down the power outlets. Without power, laptops last at the most two hours but in reality from 30 minutes to an hour. This supposedly would limit the digital loiterers to laptop battery life. This did not bother enough digital loiterers, at least not in the popular spots like the Coffee Bean & Tea on Ibn Gvirol, a long time watering hole for the digital set. Then some cafes allowed laptop seating in less comfortable areas. Again in the Coffee Bean the high tables with a tiny space were designated "laptop tables" instead of the comfortable leather seats by the windows. In another cafe not far from Dizengoff center the couches and coffee tables set up like a living room only short time newspaper reading customers were "allowed" to sit there.
The "problem" with the loitering bloggers is an interesting phenomena. Just as the Israeli economy was recovering in 2007-2008, wireless networks were spreading in restaurants, cafes and hotels here in Tel Aviv. While the economy was strong, digital cafe creatures* were spending money and bringing life to the cafes. As soon as the economy slowed down so did the cafe spending. After all if you can go to the same cafe and spend 13 shekels (US$3) on a Cappuccino instead of the 50 to 100 shekels for breakfast... why not take advantage of the situation? The shift from spenders to loiterers - contributors to parasites is obvious in hindsight. But sometimes when such shifts in the economy and people's behavior are taking place, it's hard to pinpoint who is right and who's toes are being stepped on.
There is an important lesson to learn here. How do we handle fast shifts in the economy and in people's behavior? When Henry Miller was writing in Paris cafes nobody was too worried about seats being taken by artists, writers and "wan'-na-be" loiterers. Why? Because nobody took them seriously and in reality cafes did not lose anything. Tel Aviv cafe seats are not that valuable today either. There are plenty of empty cafes and some are very nice in good locations (with beach views or in good residential and commercial locations.) We also learned that technology does not always compensate for basic economic conditions. When a writer or SEO specialist does not have cash to buy breakfast he will go with a cup of coffee and a croissant. Finally, there are people who see trends and some that don't. Laptop computers are becoming smaller with a new name 'Net-Books'. The Internet is becoming more useful and eventually will become a source of income to more people. Businesses will adapt to people's desire to sit for a few hours in a nice cafe - somewhere. If it is not in the Coffee Bean it will be at Hillel's, or Cafeneto, or Arcafe or Greg's or a no-name cafe. The name does not matter, how you are being treated matters. If the cafe needs a few shekels to compensate for the bit of electricity and wireless networking, put out a cup or sell an hour's worth of service for a shekel (US 25 cents.) Maybe cafes will take on a style ~ the digital ones and the analog ones (or is it dead tree reader ones?) There is room for more than one type of cafe in Tel Aviv. I am sure that is true for London, Paris and even San Francisco. Thanks for reading ~~ AmiV@TLV
* I do not know what to call these wondering digital workers. Every city has them, they come in many level of sophistication: sandal wearing designers to suite and tie salesmen. The reality is simple, people need their laptop while on the move, sitting on a park bench or a car is not a place to do work in today's digital world.