Last year's Wi-Fi one-upsmanship between McDonalds and Starbucks went a long way toward making free Internet commonplace. It also, inevitably, led to numerous smaller competitors following suit, and then, almost as quickly, a backlash of coffeehouses "unplugging" Internet access because the sites became squatting zones for businessmen and college students using them as mobile offices.
So now it's about time that someone deemed free Wi-Fi as "kind of played out", "tacky" and "yesterday's trend." That someone would be Greg Beato, a Reason magazine contributing editor, who writes an essay in The Smart Set detailing the downfall of Wi-Fi's appeal. Every patron who brings a laptop into a coffeehouse to join social throngs on the Internet, rather than in the coffeehouse itself, is a reminder to all those who aren't online that "the discourse is more engrossing elsewhere." He explains:
Cafes, especially the hippest, most fashionable cafes, have always been venues for conspicuous contemplation as much as for public discourse — places to read Camus’ most obscure collections of essays, places to doodle evocatively in your large Moleskin notebook. In addition, it’s not as if no one had ever thought to bring a laptop into a café before the days of Wi-Fi. What’s different about Wi-Fi users, though, is the possibility that they’re rejecting the immediate social milieu of the coffeehouse not for private contemplation but rather for the mediated social milieu of the Internet.
...When the cultural vanguard was doing the typing, this was barely tolerable. When free Wi-Fi became as common as fixed gear bikes, it grew less so.
[Hat Tip: The Morning News]