On Sunday, March 27 Categories:

My co-author and I have been working on our book for months. Every Monday, we meet at a local coffee shop to evaluate our progress. The shop, part of a national chain, has a central fireplace. Tables and chairs are arranged around the fireplace, with extra tables and Internet connections along the walls.

Our weekly meetings have made me aware of the "regulars." One group seems to be working on a downtown development plan. Senior citizens read daily newspapers. Other patrons sit alone wuth their laptops. While most patrons buy food, some buy the cheapest beverage and nurse it as long as possible.

These meeting places offer patrons more than coffee and baked goodies. John Sherry writes about the pluses in his article, "If you Need Help Why You Should Have a Coffee." He thinks these establishments are the heart of the community, "bringing people together to chat, do business, meet old friends, treat new ones, have a break and a brew, and catch up on the gossip."

But the old-fashioned shops are in danger of disappearing. Today, many coffee shops are filled with laptop patrons, staring at the the greenish light of their computer screens. These patrons are annoyed when distracted or when someone wants their table. America's coffee shops are a cross-section of life, according to Sherry, "a public private place to communicate."

Michael Jones examines these businesses in his article, "Are Laptops Ruining the Coffee Shop?" Ten years ago, Jones notes, technology began to invade these businesses. Instead of conversation, many patrons "don't move or say a word for hours." Heads down, ear buds in place, they are examples of unsocialability. The problem has become so widespread that some shops have banned the use of laptops.

I understand the difference between a coffee shop and an Internet cafe. Still, I like the old-fashioned places that promote conversation and companionship. People tell stories, share problems, and work out solutions together. They show worn snapsnots to each other and talk about grandchildren. Will coffee shops ever be the same?

I think there are ways to preserve them. One way is to charge a small fee for connecting with the Internet. Another way is to treat the Internet connection like other items you rent, and put a time limit on use. The patron may be asked to make a minimum purchase if he or she is going to use a table for an extended time.

I have another idea. Many shops have community bulletin boards. To stimulate conversation, they could hang a white board, with markers and erasers, on a feature wall. The heading, "This Week's Hot Topic" would be at the top. Patrons would be invited to share their views on these topics. Their participation may stimulate conversation and even lead to community improvements.

Weekly coffee shop meetings have worked well for my co-author and me. Though I don't object to laptop patrons, they change the atmosphere and social nature of the place. Let's bring conversation back to America's coffee shops!

Copyright 2011 by Harriet Hodgson

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Harriet Hodgson has been an independent journalist for 30+ years. Her 24th book, "Smiling Through Your Tears: Anticipating Grief," written with Lois Krahn, MD, is available from Amazon.

Centering Corporation published her 26th book, "Writing to Recover: The Journey from Loss and Grief to a New Life" and a companion journal. The company also published her latest book, "The Spiritual Woman: Quotes to Refresh and Sustain Your Soul."

Hodgson has another new book out, "101 Affirmations to Ease Your Grief Journey: Words of Comfort, Words of Hope," also available from Amazon. Please visit her website and learn more about this busy author and grandmother.

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