Monday, December 06, 2010


In a post from February of 07, I referred to the Dobbin Road Starbucks as Laptop Alley. On any given weekday the tables and chairs are usually filled with a variety of folks hunched over their laptops. After reading this story by David Sax in The New York Times yesterday, I realized that this particular coffee shop is Columbia’s version of Laptopistan, “an entrepreneurial economy, driven by solitary thinkers.”

David’s Laptopistan is actually the Atlas Café in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. While there are immediately recognizable similarities between the two, hooking up to power in Columbia’s Laptopistan is less cumbersome than its New York cousin.

“The floor presents an obstacle course of power cables snaking their way around coffee cups, over chairs, and around table legs, eventually finding a home in one of two power strips that look as though they came from a Soviet coal refinery. Whenever a plug is inserted, the outlet sparks, and certain movements can cause all the plugs on a given strip to simultaneously eject.”

The reporter is a freelance writer who usually works from home. He readily admits that prior to conducting his anthropological study of Laptopistan he dismissed this laptop coffee shop culture as “just unemployed hipsters and their unpublished novels, or screenplays, or Facebook stati.”

He now sees Laptopistan in a different light.

“At home, the slightest change in light is enough of an excuse to get up, walk around, clip my nails or head into the kitchen. Though home offices seem like the perfect work environment, their unrestricted silence, uninterrupted solitude and creature comforts breed distraction. In Laptopistan, I focused with intense precision, sitting motionless for hours at a time. At home, when the Internet goes down, I feel professionally castrated, and usually retire to the sofa until the connection is restored. When the wireless network at Atlas seized up two afternoons in a row, I just switched to off-line tasks without breaking stride. No one else seemed fazed, either. If anything, the place got more crowded. Laptopistan provides structure, and freelancers, like children, secretly crave structure. You come to work, for two or four or eight hours, and you take comfort in the knowledge that everyone else is there to work as well. There’s a silent social pressure to it all.”
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