The Loneliness Of The Coffee Shop Patron

I was sitting chatting with a friend in a coffee shop last week, a convenient place to meet before going to the cinema, when we both paused for a moment, looked around us, and in near unison remarked that, although the cafe was full, we were the only people talking to each other; everyone else was alone, reading from a screen or talking into a telephone.

I’m all in favour of there being lots of places one can go and sit comfortably on one’s own, but when did the solo patron become so prevalent?  Before the multiplication of the big chains in London it could be hard to find a drinkable cup of coffee, or a comfortable place to sit to drink it, but now the sitting opportunities abound.

It’s a standard recommendation for writers: go and work in a cafe.  There is a fundamental assumption in that advice that go and sit with your computer in front of you, and no-one will speak to you, or interrupt you.  Instead everyone will sit totally focussed on their own electronic device on the table in front of them, ‘communicating’.  The prime quality of an interlocutor, these days, it seems, is that they not be physically present.

Maybe we’re now treating coffee shops the way libraries were used in the past, a place to be out, but not in social company.  We pretend that we’re alone, but we’re not.

I’ve sat beside people being interviewed for jobs, and people practising business presentations, and if they assumed, because I had my notebook open in front of me, that I wasn’t listening to every word they were mistaken.  I’m nosy that way.

But don’t think that I necessarily want a stranger to speak to me when I sit there on my own……

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