Free Wifi with your coffee?

Posted: November 9, 2014 in Mediated Lives

I am tethered to technology. I have emerged from  what Turkle calls ‘the tethered teen’, always available, always online, always connected, to the tethered adult, slightly panicked when I have no signal or accidently leave my phone at home.

Some public spaces, like coffee shops have always aimed to tether us in one way or another. English coffee houses in the Eighteenth century relied on people talking and meeting (and staying longer and buying coffee thus increasing profits). The lack of alcohol in these coffee houses meant that these places were for more serious, more formal conversations rather than the social, alcohol fuelled conversations that would have taken place in the alehouses at the time. Having spent a couple of evenings in both the local coffee shop and the local ale house, I think that this is still the case. It could be argued that the coffee house has simply moved with the times but rather than getting together in groups to discuss and debate the themes of the day, people sit as individuals and connect to the global village – to work, to chat and to ‘connect’. Having sat in a coffee house this week as part of my research, there were only four people out of 15 who were not using their phones Those who were not ‘tethered’, were either reading or chatting. Coffee houses do all they can to ensure we can remain connected (and buy more coffee?  – free Wi-Fi, Facebook pages to share the experience, Twitter feeds (any different to ‘word of mouth’ in the historical coffee houses?) and Coffee Club Apps where you can earn points for your loyalty.

Human beings are social beings, we learn by communicating with others. So are we any less social because we choose to communicate with people through technology? It still seems odd to me when friends cut short a ‘real conversation’ to answer a text message – almost demonstrating dual lives. Are we becoming so attached to our mobile devices that we are simply an extension of them? Castells sees the human being simply “as a communication portal who handles the management of continuous data stream that flows into a space.”  (2008: 449) But just because the people in the coffee shop aren’t socially connecting to me doesn’t mean they are not socially connected. In fact it could be argued that these tethered people are in fact widening their social interactions and that the people I was studying in Costa were part of a social public space, joined together with others through a common theme – the use of technology to connect. Were these people still social beings, even though they weren’t chatting with their nearest coffee drinker? These people weren’t sitting in their bedrooms, tethered to their computers, they were out, in the social sphere with co-located others. But are we kidding ourselves? It could be argued that they are simply involved in ‘public privatism’, involved in a private activity in a public space, disconnected from social interaction and ignoring their coffee loving counterparts. On a happier note – the local pub was loud, noisy with chatter, laughter, interaction and several pints of the social liquid known as beer



Turkle S, (2006) Always On?Always-on-you: ‘The Tethered Self’, in James Katz (ed) Handbook of Mobile communications and Social Change, Cambridge MA; MIT Press

Wikipedia –

The Costa Coffee Club –

M Castells (2008): “Afterword”. Katz, Castells (eds.). Handbook of Mobile Communication Studies. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Hampton K, Community and social interaction in the wireless city: wi-fi use in public and semi-public spaces

New Media & Society December 2008vol. 10 no. 6 831-850


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