One of the most frequent questions we field at our cafe-roastery on the southeast corner of Bathurst and Bloor is, "What's the WiFi account and password here?", inevitably followed by, "You don't have WiFi?" The expectation is that connectivity and coffeehouses go together and it comes as a shock, even an affront to learn that we're WiFi free. Why would we do that? Are we inhuman?
In fact, the decision to forego WiFi was one we pained over for quite some time and it wasn't an easy one to implement as we actually had outlets in-store available for customers to plug their devices into; so we ripped them out. That's how dedicated we were to our vision for Green Beanery — as a follow-on from the traditional coffeehouse, old-world style, sans internet; back in time to the hurly-burly of a human connection circa 1993, the possibility of dramatic eye contact, and the circus of emotions awareness of one another forces upon us, heightened and/or relieved by the magical elixir of coffee.
As far back as the 15th century and the establishment of the first coffeehouses in Mecca, our sense of self has deepened in the attentive presence of others. In the Mecca qahveh khanehs, coffee drinkers gathered to gossip, sing and dance; in the English coffeehouses of 1728, patrons would "talk of Business and News, read the Papers, and often look at one another". Coffeehouses are said to have fueled the Enlightenment era and they have served throughout their history as a forum for the exchange of news and views at times when political and social chaos imperiled community otherwise. Whatever the backdrop, the sobering yet invigorating effects of caffeine in a confined space, outside of the home, have enabled us to further the human project of sociability. At times this has led to violence, and at other times to great works of art, but despite variable outcomes, there's no getting around it: even our modern technology will not save us from the fact of one another. And according to Harvard researchers, that's a good thing.Beginning in 1938, Harvard researchers followed the lives of more than 700 men in Boston over the course of 78 years in an effort to understand the factors that would determine which of them would grow old and enjoy health and happiness or not. It turns out that the single most important indicator of long-term happiness and health — aside from not smoking and drinking too much — is the strength of a person's relationships. "The people who were most satisfied in relationships at 50 were the healthiest at 80," said Dr. Robert Waldinger, the current director of the Harvard Study of Adult Development. How to obtain these life-sustaining humans? He recommends doing "something as simple as replacing screen time with people time". He did not mention coffee, so perhaps this study isn't all it could be. Today, seated at Green Beanery to observe the novelty of no WiFi in action, I found myself immediately reaching for my cellphone. Darn it. No WiFi. A think piece I had the foresight to print out entitled, "Why Modern Relationships Are Falling Apart So Easily Today" could not hold my attention (they are falling apart because of societal malaises such as impatience and too many walls, aka computer screens). No matter how I tried to distract myself, the drama of humanity kept calling me back; to the people walking past the enormous windows that look out onto one of the city's busiest intersections, to the conversations around me and a couple a short distance away in the corner, consoling one another, talking closely for what seemed like twenty minutes, mouth to ear. And then they did something I haven't seen anyone in a coffeehouse attempt in years: they hugged — not a "hello" or a "goodbye" hug, nor was it a romantic cuddle, but a deeply felt embrace; the sort we give one another as comfort in times of stress. A movie-length embrace.
2. Did Coffee Fuel the Age of Enlightenment? Steven Johnson
Without the escape of technology as a default from the physical present, I felt the urge to get in on that hug. I also felt connected to a larger sense of myself and the world around me. There really is so much to drink in besides the coffee, although that in itself was pretty good.
1. Memoirs and Observations in his Travels over England, Henri Misson, pp. 39-40