The Failure Of The Digital Cafe - InformationWeek

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Infrastructure // PC & Servers
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8/16/2010
11:45 AM
Jim Rapoza
Jim Rapoza
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The Failure Of The Digital Cafe

As human beings we are social creatures, most people find it enjoyable to be out in social situations with groups of friends. But are modern technologies destroying the "social" aspect of social situations?

As human beings we are social creatures, most people find it enjoyable to be out in social situations with groups of friends. But are modern technologies destroying the "social" aspect of social situations?My wife and I like to go out, both with friends and just with each other. And more and more I see situations in restaurants and bars that make me shake my head.

I'm sure you've seen this too. A couple, in a romantic restaurant, sitting across from each other at a small table, both ignoring the other while peering hypnotically at the phones in their hands. Or, a large group of friends ostensibly out to spend time together, but almost every one ignoring the people they are actually out with in order to text with others who are not there.

Now, of course, I'm a technology analyst and I love modern tech. And I've used my devices plenty of times in social situations. But I always use them to enhance the situation I'm in, not replace it.

So quickly texting a friend to tell them where you're hanging out, that's good. Holding a long text conversation with someone while consistently ignoring those you're with, bad. Using your iPhone app to figure out who sings the song playing in the bar, fun and an argument ender. Sitting in a group of friends and playing a game on your phone, not so good.

And so on so on. Now some will say that this is just the way things are going. That especially younger people prefer to live in a texting and digital world in favor of the real world. But I don't think this is true.

I've just returned from a vacation in France. And if you have ever been there you know that the French love their very social café culture. Sure, there's the classic image of a Frenchman sitting at a café, smoking, drinking coffee and reading Sartre.

But for the most part, especially at night, the cafés and bars in Paris are very social places, with groups of friends enthusiastically enjoying a night out. And, at least as far as I saw, getting the balance of social and digital right.

For the whole time I was there, I never saw two people ignoring each other to stare at their smartphones, I never saw a group of young people texting instead of talking.

I did see lots of friendly conversation between friends, and I saw plenty of usage of smart phones, but it always seemed to be quick, in service of a specific goal, rather than in service of ignoring the social situation.

Of course you see that here in the states as well. Many people still enjoy social situations in the classic, real-world way. But I'd like to see the phenomenon of ignoring real world social situations in favor of digital conversations disappear completely.

Because our digital devices are there to enhance our real-world social engagements, not replace them.

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