Monday, February 15, 2010

Any good public places in Madison without wifi for addicts who want to get some work done?

I used to love to write in public places like cafes and coffee shops -- just enough people and social activity around me to keep from drowning in my own solipsism, but not enough distraction to keep me from getting any work done. But when I got a wireless laptop and everything changed.

Addiction is a terrible thing. If Seth Fischer's description of the tortures of the damned doesn't strike a nerve, you probably don't use the internet much.
A couple weeks back, I was in a bad way. I’d recently joined Twitter, was always on Fa cebook, and checked my email (and I don’t exaggerate) about 75 times a day. I couldn’t stand it, but I also couldn’t stop. I spent more than half my waking hours on a screen.

It’s not heroin. I should have been able to stop myself. But I couldn’t. Really. I wasn’t getting any writing done. I was ignoring my girlfriend and my friends. I was reading George Packer’s musings on how all this technology needs to stop and tearing up. I read this article about heavy web users being depressed. I agreed. I checked my email again.
Fischer sought out an alternative and found it in Borderlands Cafe, which is wireless-free by design and affiliated with Borderlands Bookstore in San Francisco. Fischer finds salvation at last.
Not only do they not have wireless, but they don’t have music, and everything is remarkably well lit.

By the time I left the coffee shop, I’d cleared my head and written 3,000 words. With the Internet and music to distract me, it would take me a month to write that much, and I would have ended the day more panicked then when I started. I also couldn’t help but notice how many people were buying magazines and coffee. Even more striking was how many people thanked the barista for the store’s policies.
Fischer's post in The Rumpus about owner Allan Beatts explains his policy and its reception by customers. (Via @maudnewton.)

I had a similar experience myself recently when our DSL modem burned out and I spent a few hours waiting for the replacement to be installed (we upgraded to AT&T's U-Verse and got a new router gateway). At first I was in a panic. Withdrawal set in as I couldn't access my usual sources of information. I couldn't connect with Blogger or Flickr to post. And at first I couldn't even write, because I've become so accustomed to using Google Docs online. Then I remembered -- oh, this computer comes with something called a word processor. Got more done in those few hours than I usually do in days.

Now I'm looking for a public place to (occasionally) reproduce this experience. Any suggestions?


Emily said...

I always go to Dobra Tea on State St. for the technology free environment (plus really good tea). They don't allow cell phone use, and I'm pretty sure don't have their own wi-fi network. You can bring a laptop to work on, though. Good place.

Ben said...

La Brioche / True Food does not allow people to use their cell phones. I can't remember their policy on laptops, but it's probably pretty similar. You may need to go totally analog.

Bakery is still excellent, even though my wife & I have had really poor/inattentive service. I guess if you go & get a cup of tea or coffee, you'll probably be okay.

dougie said...

Any cafe that makes you ask for their wifi password, since it's far easier to resist asking for the password than resist opening the internet, which I constantly find myself doing unconsciously when I mean to switch applications or find a file.

I like Mermaid Cafe on Winnebago and I can never get their wifi to work on my laptop anyway.

Anonymous said...

Nice post.
The wifi at Coffee Bytes is kind of spotty. You can get online, but the connection is too weak for checking email. Not perfectly unplugged, but it's something. :)