Voltaire and Free Wi-Fi

Glenn Fleishman at Wi-Fi Networking News wrote yesterday about a coffee shop in Seattle that decided to “experiment with taking back its culture by turning off the Wi-Fi juice on weekends.” Various weblogs are linking to Glenn’s story including Engadget. But one of the only places I’ve seen people discussing it beyond blindly linking to it is Slashdot.

In the story at Wi-Fi Networking News, coffee shop co-founder Jen Strongin said that before Wi-Fi, “People talked to each other, strangers met each other.” Wi-Fi is pretty new as far as non-techies using it. As Voltaire once said “Common sense is not so common.” I think that the cafe could keep their Wi-Fi open on the weekends if they helped educate their customers about free Wi-Fi etiquette. To many of us, it might just seem like common sense.

The Wi-Fi user group, Boston Wireless Advocacy Group, that I am part of created a “Do’s and Don’ts” poster for cafes and restaurants who provide complimentary Wi-Fi. The idea is to provide tips to patrons who are using the free Wi-Fi. We’re in the process of distributing it to Boston area locations and it’s available online as a low-res PDF. It’s a work-in-progress so if you have any ideas regarding how the poster could be improved, please let us know.

4 replies on “Voltaire and Free Wi-Fi”

Hi Sooz,

Yes intelligent discourse can be a tad hard to find sometimes.

You might be interested in knowing that I’ve just put up a poll on my other site ( where I ask

“Do you think WiFi has ruined cafe atmosphere?”

Judging by the 2 votes I have so far it’s a 50/50 split… =8P

Hey Rob:

Thanks for the pointer to your poll.

But isn’t it a bit more than “has Wi-Fi ruined cafe atmosphere”? Shouldn’t more establishments have public/open Wi-Fi and shouldn’t users (and venues) of Wi-Fi at these venues have a better understanding of etiquette?

From my view, we have a responsibility to not spread or encourage misinformation.

Oh I agree absolutely, very good point Sooz.

My poll is aimed purely at one aspect of the reasoning given for shutting down the connection over the weekend.

Being a geek and a cafe lover, I find that I am torn between what I love most about the cafe culture (noisy rooms filled with fervent conversation that one can engage in or be lost in) and what I expect living in the modern world (wifi, cool music, pleasing decor etc).

I think that there is also the issue of lack of appreciation for a service as soon as it’s free, and dealing with irate wifi users is one of the reasons cited for the shut-down. Demand for wifi has forced many cafes to try to keep up with their competition through the introduction of new services, but the staff are not trained to cope with the demands of operating a network as well as producing good coffee.

Much more can be said about this, but alas this is a comment space.

In my experience I’ve found my computer to be an excuse to talk to someone sitting near me. A couple months ago I gave my old Linksys Wi-Fi card to someone who didn’t have one. I didn’t need it anymore since I switched to a Mac last year. So, we’re trying to get the card set up and had problems. Someone sitting near us noticed we were having problems and offered to help and resolved the problem in a couple minutes.

Today while I was at True Grounds in my neighorhood (they offer free/comp Wi-Fi), two people sitting next to me asked if I’d watch their computers while they went outside to smoke. They don’t know me so who is to say I couldn’t have wandered off with their computer myself? I joked with them that since they’ve got computers running Windows there was little chance I’d try to run off with them.

I have no problem with a cafe doing whatever it is they want to do. It’s their business afterall. I just think there’s more to the story than “coffee shop turns off Wi-Fi on weekend and business goes up.”

In the article at Wi-Fi Networking News about the coffee shop in Seattle, the co-owner said that many of these patrons will camp six to eight hours—and not buy anything.

I’d love to know what kind of laptops these people are using that will run up to eight hours on one battery pack. Why are people who aren’t buying anything being provided electricity, too? If I saw someone doing that at True Grounds I’d probably be tempted to ask them myself what’s up. That’s not a Wi-Fi issue, that’s a rude person issue.

You mention in your comment above that more can be said but this is a comment space. There’s no word count restriction here so feel free to write as much as you want. Or write about it on your blog and I’d be happy to link back. Hey, that’s discourse. :)

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