A “good cafe” by Western standards will have friendly staff, a bubbling atmosphere, a combination of stools and chairs, and inevitably, wicked coffee. But the flurry of guests to such establishments is due to one other factor..
It’s above all a sanctuary where ideas are communicated.
This idea is almost hidden to outsiders, and even the participants themselves, who would merely see a cafe as an outlet for their caffeine hit… or to indulge in first-Tinder date awkwardness.
It’s 11.30am and I’m seated at one of 15 tables in my local cafe.
Some customers are young mothers with prams at their sides, catching up with friends as a deserving break from the care of children. Some are businessmen, talking emphatically with hand gestures which shouts “f*ck the free lunch!”.
Those not contributing to the audible atmosphere are on their smartphones, either reading, viewing, or intent on texting something to a member of another community. Others tap fingers on the keyboard of their laptops, read magazines or newspapers like cattle grazing in an open field.
All of these meetings and activities could have easily taken place at home or in an office. It’s surely not simply the coffee here that provides them the initiative to meet at this cafe… I mean, it’s okaaay.
I dig deeper into the reasons why they congregate here (something I’d never considered in several years as a participant of such a culture).
I establish in my findings that the identity of the community is made up of three things:
- Communication: The overall purpose of coming here. It is beyond quality of coffee and food, and reaches into the realm of ability to listen, convey, and learn, and is relied on the quality of the next point.
- Atmosphere: The congregation of participants to communicate in a suitable environment creates the very environment that they seek in order for the first point to be successful.
- Accessibility: Whether the space enables our ability to meet our “communication partners” (a friend, a first date, a parent, a client).
In his 2011 book on human evolution and history, Yuval Noah Harari outlines the greatest inhibitor of Neanderthals as being their limited ability to learn, remember and communicate. The Homo Sapiens cognitive ability is potentially the single largest reason why we overtook the Neanderthals some 60,000 years ago to become the earth’s dominant (and later, only) race.
I mention this to emphasise the importance we put on communication. It is so prevalent in our society that it wouldn’t be crazy to consider it absurd for a member of society not to have a smartphone. We use iPhones and Androids to learn, remember and communicate, as if a symbol of our near-supernatural power that strengthened our cause over Neanderthals.
I look on outside, and see the rolling wheels kick up specs of water after a morning of rain, people move left and right on the parallel pathway, all beneath gloomy clouds which remind me that it’s surely much nicer here inside than it could be out.
The feeling here is that of a beehive. A flurry of activity is sensed, yet predominantly this only through what I hear; a concoction of conversations, blanketed delicately by smooth, lounge music.
Physically, there is not much more activity than couples or individuals moving in and out of the cafe every so often, and the staff cleaning tables and picking up cups and plates. I’m not uncomfortable in anyway, and this is perhaps due to the intentness of conversation ethic; almost nobody is looking up, around, or at me, just as I am currently looking up, around, and at them.
Despite analysing their every current move, I’ve blended in. I’ve assimilated perfectly, with a medium sized flat white inches from an open laptop. I also feel compelled to write… Look! Words!
The atmosphere drives me.
The space also draws away many distractions. The lighting is predominantly natural, with several large windows allowing the peaking sun to let it’s rays in. If there were such thing as a ‘lukewarm’ temperature for sight, this would be it.
The ceilings are quite heigh, and tables are relatively spaced, neatly offering me a sense of ‘openness’. I have mental clarity here, as less clutter is in my sight, and thus in my head. The room temperature is comfortable. My desire to stay far surpasses any inclination to head outside to a partly cloudy but cold day (AKA into “the elements”).
The unapologetic aroma of freshly brewed coffee is absolutely welcomed into my nostrils. About thirty strangers fill my ears with a blend of conversation. I feel at home (despite my home being nothing like this).
A study by Ravi Mehta of UBC has confirmed that a coffee shop or cafe like this is a boost to one’s creative cognisance. It almost ‘wakes up’ the creative mind, providing the noise is not too overwhelming. I can only speak for myself, but my time here has proven productive. I rarely, if ever, leave my house to write or work, but I’m deeply inclined to return. Much like creativity, to be comfortably and effectively communicative a person needs to be open-minded and stimulated.
Despite the drastically increased use in technology to create a ‘virtual commune’, there is still such importance placed on human connection. While about 20% of customers in this cafe today do not have a friend or colleague facing them, the absolute majority create a zoo-like atmosphere by using verbal and body language to convey their points, stories, and ideas.
The cafe gives us a comfort, and complete acceptance of the participants around us, to drum up a conversation out of thin air. This community’s identity is represented by the acts of communication, sparked by a lively atmosphere that is accessible for all willing participants.