Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The wi-fi facade

Hello, folks. Yes, I've been MIA once again. Sickness has descended on our humble home and has made its miserable way through each and every family member. Yet, we have not entirely succumbed, work has continued, life has continued, school tomorrow will continue, and life goes on. Cough, cough, snot, snot, HONK. (That last honk was me blowing my nose.)

So, I know I'm really old when the whole "wi-fi" train has left me behind at the station. Wi-fi in your house? Yes, that makes some sense. You can check various fronts from the comfort of your couch, or from the handy-dandy kitchen office that really swank, huge homes feature (which we lack here). You can be working online while your kids are playing games with kids in other countries. It's all good.

But wi-fi at coffee shops? At bagel stores? Why? I am flummoxed. I know it's cool. I know it's hip. I know that people shouldn't feel confined to office spaces anymore. How limiting. How very 90s. Still, I fear that performing online work tasks at Panera is doing to work what talking on cell phones at all hours in all places has done to the quality of telephone communications. (Hint: REDUCING QUALITY SIGNIFICANTLY.)

Work is work. It takes space most of the time. It takes quiet sometimes. It takes thought-space, ponder room, concentration. It takes a place where you can have a conversation with a person and not be concerned about the undisciplined brat sitting at the next table, throwing a fit over butter instead of jelly. It takes a "professional" atmosphere (do those still exist?!), as it should.

Yes, I visited Panera Bread recently. And yes, I wondered once again how much meaningful work could honestly be performed in such a setting. There are workers taking calls, typing on their laptops, spreading various papers all around them, looking terribly important. Come on, you couldn't do this in your hotel room, if you're traveling? In your own bedroom, if you are self-employed? How much work can honestly be accomplished in such a public, noisy, unregulated environment?

So, yes, I'm old. Yes, I don't take my laptop to a coffee shop to do work. I don't even have a laptop. So call me names. Laugh at me. You know what? When I have real work to do, I get it done. Fast. Efficiently. In a purposeful and focused manner. And no one on a work-related call with me ever has to wonder who is screaming in the background, or why my office features an out-of-control milk steamer.

Thoughts? I know I'm a dinosaur... I can take it.


Anonymous said...

I actually took our laptop to Panera when our internet was down. And Usually I have to admit I see more young people at coffee shops on their laptops than people working. Maybe people want to find a quiet spot away from wife/kids who interrupt? Maybe hotel rooms are too quiet? Remember JKRowling wrote the HP books at a coffee shop...lol

chris h. said...

I can imagine taking my laptop to Panera but I can't imagine using it for actual work. I could LOOK busy, but I'd likely be reading e-mail or surfing. I can't even have the radio on at home when I'm working, so accomplishing anything in a distracting coffee shop? Not happenin' for me. (Plus, I've worked at home for so long, I wonder how I'd work (write) in a regular office! They're pretty distracting too.)

Mel said...

Hmmm. How much better might the HP series have been if written in peace and quiet? Teeee heeee, just kidding. Maybe if it's a creative pursuit, then a scattered, noisy background actually helps... not sure. I know I was able to paint just find at craft demos with people walking by and looking over my shoulder. But the REAL work? I must have order and calm. So, I'm with you, Chris. Although I suppose everyone is different... Maybe younger people are better at it b/c they are accustomed to more distractions...

Facie said...

I don't own a laptop, but in all the years I had one at work, I never took it out of the office, so I am not a good example of a mobile digital worker. I have, however, taken papers to proofread while waiting in a doctor's office. I was good at tuning out things (think of how noisy the old office was when we got there and how loud some people were/are).

I once read about some out-of-work guy who went to Panera and used it as his office (I think those were pretty much his exact words) to make networking calls and the like. He talked about others who did the same thing and how they all looked out for one another. Sounded kind of nice, I guess. But not for me.

Facie said...

I had to share this, Mel. I was at a dinner at a country club this past week. In the bathroom before the actual event started, there was an 80-something year old woman with a bluetooth on her ear!

Mel said...

Hmmm. Panera as a makeshift office? Nahhh. As a source of networking and friendly support? Perhaps. And an 80-year old with a Bluetooth? in the restroom? What is the world coming to... tsk, tsk.

When people are talking on the cell phone in a public bathroom, and I happen to be there too, I always flush an extra time just to make sure the person on the other end is fully aware of where the conversation is happening. Classy.