When I tell people I work at a coffee shop, many give me a quizzical look.  They shake their heads and say, “I could never work at a coffee shop”.  When I get specific and tell them I work at Lux Coffeebar, a coffee shop that is known for its music blaring within its bustling, crowded, dark cavern of a space, their minds are boggled.  (As you’ve probably guessed, I’m at Lux as I write this post).

I was speaking to a woman once and she was complaining about how when she goes to coffee shops, all she sees are people with their heads buried in their laptops, their eyes fixed just below the horizontal position, intent, almost like automatons who’re hooked up to some mind-altering substance.  What happened to saying hi, having conversations, engaging in the present moment, asked this woman.

Well, since nine times out of ten, I’m one of those automatons, it got me to thinking, what’s up with this?  Why is it that I prefer to work in an atmosphere like Lux, be with other people, yet not really be with them?  I could very well work in my home office, with my cat Bamboo at my feet lying on some found pillow, but otherwise quite alone.  But when given a choice, I prefer to work in the crowded recesses of Lux.

Kevin Kellogg said in his guest post:

“The project of a city is one of millions of individual acts, and the agreement between city dwellers that makes this possible is one of anonymity. The sense of privacy that is created by physical space in the frontier is accomplished in a dense city by the conceptualized personal space of anonymity. That then becomes the space for interpretation of experience.”

I feel that this concept of anonymity is also at play in the coffee shop working experience.  But in this case, the anonymity created by the coffee shop, by having a dozen people sitting close to one another, with their eyes glued to their laptops, only marginally aware of each other, creates a space for creativity, productivity and flow.  Much like living in a dense, bustling city, Lux is a microcosm of those same concepts that make a real city: a crowd of people, a perpetual background noise, a heightened energy, a certain amount of grit and most important, a sense of privacy amidst strangers.  Maybe this is why Lux is such a pulsating, energetic node in the otherwise quiet, uber clean, and a little too spacious urban landscape called Phoenix.

This isn’t to say I’m against conversations in coffee shops. Au contraire, I have plenty of conversations at the coffee shops I frequent.  But I also appreciate that I can slip into a space of anonymity and privacy required to do my best work.  This space, serviced by being in the same place as others physically but being immersed in a completely different realm, is what makes working at coffee shops such a unique and hard-to-replicate phenomenon.  This leads to the question: Can the new co-working spaces that are cropping up manage to create the intangible spark that happens in coffee shops?

You tell me.  Leave me a comment!

Photo Credit: Lux Coffeebar.  Photo by the author.

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8 Responses

  1. Steve Weiss says:

    I’d of course be the contrarian on this one. Can a coffee HOUSE exist, where there is nowi-fi and just a place to talk, play board games or cards, watch a cool movie(with subtitles so no sound distraction, but please pay the screening rights!), listen to live music or poetry or look at artwork?

    The alternative in Phoenix to me still is Bill Johnsons. I also favor Paisley Violin. Both serve coffee in bottomless form in a ceramic non-disposable cup. I’d rather pay for the gal’s tip who walks over my cofee than a guy drawing leafs in my mocha.

    Just sayin’…

    • Taz Loomans says:

      there’s room for it all Steve. I did enjoy Bill Johnsons…Maybe filmbar can have some of those qualities you seek “no wi-fi and just a place to talk, play board games or cards, watch a cool movie(with subtitles so no sound distraction, but please pay the screening rights!), listen to live music or poetry or look at artwork?”

  2. Steve Weiss says:

    Please excuse lousy typing. I can’t find a way to fix a post.

  3. Quinn Whissen says:

    Hi there! I’m happy I came across your blog just now. I came through searching for ‘biking in Phoenix’ to one of your bike interview posts. I just moved from Venice Beach where I got around by biking…a large number of my destinations were coffee shops where I could read and flow with people, yet without people. I’m looking forward to your Phoenix perspectives on these things I’m interested in, personal space/sustainability/etc.


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