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The joy of café computing

Glenn Reynolds from Instapundit has written a piece on the Wall Street Journal‘s Opinion Journal

Senators have “hideaway offices,” and so do I. Theirs are scattered in various nooks and crannies around the Capitol. Mine is at the local Borders. Theirs are more prestigious, but mine has better coffee.

I have an office with a nice computer, and I have a study at home with a nicer computer. But I often pack up my laptop, or a book that I’m reading, or student papers to grade, and relocate to this third place: somewhere more congenial than the office, less isolated than home

I understand that very well but from a different perspective. There is no Barnes & Noble in Zagreb or Belgrade or Sarajevo. But like Glenn I too drink a lot of coffee, which is perhaps why I am awake now at 3:15 in the morning? Most of the things I have posted to Samizdata before Christmas were written on my lovely titanium PowerBook whilst sipping turkish coffee or espresso or macchiato in a little café. Many times I go to a place I know with my cool leather computer case (I am big on that sort of thing) and if I do not see anyone I know, I pull out the computer and start writing. Sometimes I go to cyber cafés so I can plug in or at least use their machines to check my e-mail (I am compulsive about e-mail). When I was recently in Belgrade I was in a great cyber café, typing away and listening to the excellent Rambo Amadeus with a girlfriend who calls herself Serbogeek when on-line.

But usually, it is just plain old cafés I am in, which are extremely common in the former Yugoslavia and the bit that still calls itself that. Occasionally I can even sweet talk my way into plugging into a phone line to check my e-mail and maybe send a few: in my leather bag I have every type of phone jack adaptor known to mankind (all of which I bought in New York) and even a screwdriver if needed. I am very persistent. Once I surfed for hours in a place in Zagreb and in return I taught the café’s owner how to use the Internet. However it took me a while to get him to understand that he could access things in Australia and America and Russia without paying the phone bill for a call to those places, just a local one.

Of course setting up on a table with this exotic thing also leads me into many chats with people in the café I have never met before who are curious about my strange machine. So when I open up my computer and start to type, I frequently end up writing maybe only ten lines before someone has overcome their shyness and started asking me what I am doing and do I mind if they look.

So when people says that computers are cutting people off from real life and genuine social interaction, just tell them to walk into a café with a nice laptop and open it up. Someone will probably come say hello and offer to buy you a coffee.

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