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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  1. sumkjd

     /  February 1, 2012

    Perspective is so amazing sometimes. Isn’t it?

    • That was happy happenstance – I was really only trying to take the shot without being noticed, and then the framing turned out unexpectedly appropriate to my theme!

  2. “We pretend that we’re alone, but we’re not.”


    We’re all becoming Garbo, and the loneliness increases exponentially.

    Years ago, when flying was a romantic travel experience, going off into the unknown, conversations would abound. The extravagant lies people would tell were wonderfully entertaining. Now, few conversations take place.

    Kinda suits me because I tend to just sleep on planes. It’s not just me though, there’s not that excited hubbub of conversation unless alcohol has freed inhibitions. (I’m afraid I’m rather disapproving of alcohol on planes-they should be dry places:)

    The tablet/pod/pad and wandering keyboard is something to do with it.

    I wonder if we’ll ever talk to strangers again?


    • Isn’t the paradox that we talk to ‘strangers’ online, but now so rarely in the real world?

      • “Isn’t the paradox that we talk to ‘strangers’ online, but now so rarely in the real world?”


        LOL, I am a convicted gasbag. I talk to anyone, anywhere, for any reason. Not me, I find people fascinating. I’m also a trained interrogator/listener, so I hear all the juicy bits real quick:)

        There is so little positive listening done these days, that if you ever practice it, people open up like a can of beans. It can be intimidating until you are used to it.

        Spouse, who is completely the opposite can’t stand to take me shopping. She wanders off to get some skirts and when she returns I’m deep in conversation with a group of new friends.

        It’s easy in Atlanta, because if you have an English, (Hampshire) accent, Americans are instantly on ambassadorial duties. They are decently entertained by trying to work out what the heck you are saying, and also whether it’s Australian, South African or what language it is you are speaking.

        If I throw in a few mouldering estuarine phrases, they are in a conniption complete.


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