We’re not sure his “Eureka” moment was worth the trip.
Simon, a history professor at Temple University, has spent the past few years figuring out why a sense of community is missing on the couches of Starbucks. In his new book, Everything but the Coffee: Learning about America from Starbucks, he says that Wi-fi and small tables promote solitude.
We’re thinking this is something he could have figured out on any afternoon in the coffeehouses of Philadelphia. (And why did he have to go to nine countries to “learn about America from Starbucks?”)
Simon writes that while people once were able to find meaningful conversation and debate at libraries, recreation centers and parks, those public spaces have become less available -- and less desirable -- since municipal resources are focused elsewhere.
Starbucks and other coffeehouses have become that public space in modern time, according to Simon, but instead of cultivating dialogue it seems to encourage isolation. He said that in his 15 hours a week in Starbucks he saw very few spontaneous discussions or interactions.
"Rarely ... do these different people doing different things actually talk and exchange ideas, but talk and ideas are crucial to the making of community," he writes.
While Simon says that he won’t be opening a coffee shop any time soon, his ideal one would not have Wi-Fi or to-go cups. Instead he would have a large, round table to get the conversation percolating.
Sure a round table may cause people to stare at eachother awkwardly for a long enough period of time so that discourse is forced, but there’s always the way of the French cafes—serve alcohol. The "Lost Generation” had much conversation and some productivity in such Parisian coffeehouses. Then again, most of them did die alcoholics. Foiled again.