by Delia Curtis
Winding through the uneven streets of Scotland, searching for a refuge from the cold, damp fog of spring, the Elephant House beckoned me inside. The café was snug, the scent of herbal aromatic tea filling the air. The wait staff was bustling about delivering trays full of soups and sandwiches, coffees and scones.
As I waited in line with some friends for a table, I spotted a peculiar sign. Written in white chalk and decorated with little pink hearts, “We do not have Wi-Fi. Talk to each other. Pretend it’s 1995.” I had never seen anything like it. Yes, I’ve encountered cafes that don’t provide the coveted service for sleepy-eyed students and business people on break but never had I seen it proclaimed so boldly, telling its patrons what they could—or rather should—be doing with their time.
The Elephant House seems to mean no harm. They pride themselves on being the birthplace of the Harry Potter novels, a safe haven for J.K. Rowling to write her seven-part magical series and overlooking Edinburgh Castle and a chilling graveyard. It is a place that is designed to inspire and to facilitate creativity. Whether you’re there for a chat with your friends or perhaps for a hot beverage to accompany your book of choice, it gives off the essence of comfort.
What I did happen to notice was that regardless of the cafes WiFi-less status, I still saw many people on their devices, a phone here, a tablet there, eating up precious data. I found myself doing it too, even in the company of two close friends.
Whether we’d like to admit it or not, there is an entire world that exists online. Social media connects us to friends that we can’t easily see and inform them of our going’s on with the click of a “Share” button. When we communicate it’s sometimes through a screen.
Perhaps there is something to be said about taking a few minutes to disconnect and reconnect. Finding a moment or two to flip through a magazine, or to look out the windows and people watch, to notice things that we aren’t normally attuned to.
Many cafes in Boston and the surrounding neighborhoods provide the service, allowing you to browse the web to your heart’s content, like your run-of-the-mill Starbucks or Peet’s or something more niche like Tatte, Paris Creperie, or Kookoo Café. There are outliers like Thinking Cup, a small local chain that does not have an open network, and Nine Bar Espresso, making me wonder, is there a superior place to spend your time?
As you branch out to the burbs, there are places that try to subvert this phenomenon, like Franklin, MA’s Rhapsody’s Victorian Coffee House. They’re motto: “Coffee isn’t just a drink, it’s an experience,” holds true in their take on ‘Better Ambiance’ and ‘Better Relationships.’ While they do offer complimentary Wi-Fi, they offer patrons a chance to earn a five percent discount “if you’re willing to sacrifice your cell phone during your visit.”
A discount for an hour away from your phone? Worth it? You decide.