At least you’d think coffee shops sans Wi-Fi were the latest fad after reading a recent Los Angeles Times story on the subject. Shop owners want to reconnect with their customers, says the Times, or they want to give customers a place to unplug. Or more likely, they want to keep out the moochers who buy one cup of coffee before claiming an entire corner of the cafe for hours of laptop work (guilty!).
I don’t doubt that these places exist. The problem is that they’ve existed for years, and the only trend staler than coffee shops banning or restricting Wi-Fi is newspaper trend stories about these businesses.
Actually, calling out newspapers for hyping the banned Wi-Fi idea is sort of a stale idea, too. A year ago, Slate’s Jack Shafer skewered the Wall Street Journal for one of these stories, entitled “No More Perks: Coffee Shops Pull the Plug on Laptop Users.” He noted that at least two stories preceded that one, including a 2006 Boston Globe article (“Wi-Fi Wars”) and a 2005 New York Times article entitled “Some Cafe Owners Pull the Plug on Lingering Wi-Fi Users.”
The only thing missing from all these stories, aside from bad puns about electrical sockets, is a measurable amount of hard data. If this trend has been gestating since 2005, wouldn’t the prospects of free Wi-Fi be a crapshoot in every coffee shop by now? And now that Starbucks offers free Wi-Fi, don’t independent shops have a better reason to compete than ever?