Wednesday, August 27

Look At Me, World! I Can Use A Computer!



I've never fully understood why people venture to public places for the sole purpose of using their laptop computers. For about a decade now, and in virtually every coffee house, bookstore, food court and wi-fi compatible strip club, people are meandering out of their houses and surfing the web. "Why aren't these people at home?" I would always wordlessly mumble as I looked for a seat. After I was assured by the Missus that these people were all business travelers and were doing extremely important and potentially life-saving work on the fly, her argument was almost instantly shot down when I noticed that damn near everyone using the Internet in public was on Facebook. To me, it seemed completely unnecessary in every way; a mere status symbol, and an excuse to hang around a Barnes & Noble without actually having to purchase anything. Silly, really.

If you remember from way back in the CDP archives, I was a bartender for about a year in 1997. Some quick math will also remind you that I was 15 years old at the time, but that story has already been told. Regardless, as a bartender, I was trained to know that non-paying customers were poison, and simply got in the way of the natural flow of business and commerce you'd want in an establishment that exchanges goods for money. If someone had been sitting on a barstool for more than a half hour without buying something, they were asked to move. It's simple economics, really. If you walked into a gas station and wandered around the aisles for two hours, you'd either raise suspicion or get arrested, and your weird ass would deserve it, too. Why were the public Internet-surfing trolls exempt?

Nowadays, most atriums and Wi-Fi ready locations are loaded with freeloaders; jackasses that buy a small vanilla Latte and camp out for a length of time rivaling that of the entire Korean Conflict. If I were the manager in a place like this, what would be the point in letting these people hang around? Ambiance? Hipster status? Fear of lawsuit? This is one of those seemingly insignificant things that really bothers me when I go out; "What are you doing here? Got sick of playing Scrabulous at home? Needed to feel like you were actually interacting with a non-virtual environment?"

The Missus told me I was being an asshole (I am, and an unreasonable one at that), and reminded me that for a lot of people, they don't have Internet access at their homes, and if they had to walk down the street to the coffee shop to check their mail and research an important term paper or report, then they should do so. My response to that is Internet access can be obtained in your home for about $10 a month now. Make the phone call, and stop making me wait for a seat at Gloria Jeans so I can enjoy my hot chocolate like a nice, paying customer should. In 2008, a home without Internet access is like a home without a toilet. You're in my way.

In an attempt to clear my head, I stepped away from my unnecessary rage that consumes me on a minute-by-minute basis and considered the weight of the situation. I wanted to see both sides of the "public web surfing" argument, so I decided to join the unwashed masses and try it out for myself. The Missus was throwing a dinner party one day (the ruthless cult known as Pampered Chef has sunk their potpourri-scented claws in), and I took it upon myself to get as far away from CDP Headquarters as I possibly could for the next five hours. In doing so, I threw my laptop into the Wild Stallion v4.0 and headed off to Borders, where I was to become everything that I've ever hated.

I ordered a Latte and a chocolate chip cookie that was about the size of a personal-pan pizza, and took a seat next to four other computer-pecking guys that had clearly been here for awhile. Maybe since the place opened; I don't know for sure. One guy had ordered nothing, it appeared; a nerdy looking fellow that was probably about 30 years old (nerdier-looking than even I). The guy next to him meant business; a chubby hick sporting a trucker hat with important newspapers and documents strewn across his table. He was sucking on an energy drink that they didn't sell within the confines of Borders, which meant that he brought it in himself. Christ.

The third guy was tucked in the corner, looking very shifty and strung out. Clearly, he was looking at something that he didn't want anyone else to see. Corpse Porn*, probably. The fourth guy packed up and left before I even had a chance to set up my computer. Again, he was certainly up to no good.

(*I've heard about people that are into the idea of Necrophilia, and to accommodate their curiosities, they have their significant others soak in near-freezing water for a length of time, and remain corpse-like and limp back in the bedroom, essentially simulating a dead person during the intimate act of their choosing. While I've never participated in this, no doubt interesting, activity, I will say that if you're fortunate enough to have a mate that will do that for you, hang onto them for all they're worth. That's a man or woman that will go through hell for you later down the road.)

Anyway, I set up my equipment in the last open table and got down to business, beginning to write the essay that you're reading right now. Almost instantly, I realized how distracting it was to be creative in public. I'm typically so focused on not tripping over things, spilling my drink into my lap and getting robbed that I have no time to worry about writing something worth reading (this essay is potentially Exhibit A). I was constantly looking over my shoulder, people-watching and gently nibbling on my embarrassingly-large pizza cookie; my laptop was an afterthought.

I'm used to my own private room, mood lighting and ambiance; this was like an exercise in futility. The constant screeching of the barista's blender, the hopeless, brittle, Tupperware party-throwing bitches at the table next to me rambling on about how much better the planet would be if they were the President ("No more Olympics cutting into my Soap Operas; Haw-haw!") and the lingering thought that a bunch of my Wife's friends were simultaneously touring my home and pawing my breakables with Mojito-sticky hands was almost too much for me to handle. I figured that if everything around me was succeeding in hindering my creativity, I'd do the same thing for the sake of my own entertainment. I almost instantly started talking to the fellow web-surfers around me.

"Hey, what'cha working on?" I asked to the weiner-looking guy to the left of me.

"Resume." He replied kindly, kneading his forehead with his fingertips in a feeble attempt to calm the hell down after digesting approximately eighteen gallons of coffee. It appeared that he really was working on something important, although I still wondered why he would work on something so important in a place so capable of breaking concentration. I didn't ask a follow-up.

On my right, I got the attention of the large, trucker-hat guy with all the papers and documents.

"Hey man, what'cha working on?"

"Online exam." As fate would have it, he was working on one of the many State Examinations that I worked with the Wisconsin Board to help create. Poor guy; those things suck. He then surprised me when he turned the tables and asked me what I was working on.

"Well...um, I'm writing an essay."

"Cool. What about?"

I stammered and thought of anything besides the truth. "I'm writing about how much I think I hate guys like you" seemed to be a little counterproductive and practically begging for a boot to the sack.

"I...am working on...um...book. A book, I mean. I'm working on a book." Technically, I was sort of telling the truth.

"Wow, a book, huh? Good for you, man."

"Hey, thanks. The answer to Number 23 is 'Connective Tissue,' by the way."

"Awesome, thanks, buddy."

This research conflicted me, as these guys were legitimately there for business. Regardless of how I felt about it, they had every right to do so. Hey, maybe the annoying buzz of the downtown Borders was still a more tranquil and peaceful location than their home. This is almost certainly true of a household containing any more than zero children.

(NOTE: Borders charged $6.95 for a Wi-Fi subscription, so the argument that people go to these places for free Internet is not always true. That, to me, almost completely negated the purpose altogether.)

After nearly an hour had passed and my coffee and pizza cookie were gone (both delicious, if you were wondering), I was entering uncharted territory I had forced myself to venture towards. Just how guilty was I going to feel sitting here without buying anything else? I mean, how much longer did a seat in a coffee house belong to me once I was done enjoying their delicious, sugary products? In any case, I had at least another hour to kill before the dinner party started to wind down, so I dug in and went for it.

Suddenly, an unexpected thing happened. The latte, a caffeinated drink that I seldom suck back except for cases of extreme loneliness (much like brandy Manhattans), began to take its toll on my colon in a dangerous and, quite frankly, unpredictable way. I had to use the bathroom, and fast. But what was I going to do about my computer? My saved seat? This was something that I never thought of. What if someone takes my notebook? What if someone takes my spot? Do I take all of my stuff into the stall with me? Should I just stake my claim and mess my pants? What was I going to do?

I deliberated for a few minutes until I reached critical mass in my small intestine. A decision had to be made, and quickly. In lieu of asking the guy next to me what he happens to do in these situations, I decided to leave everything where it was and make a beeline for the can. I didn't want to, and I can assure you that I took the fastest poop of my life, but it was something that needed to be experienced for the good of my vital research. And so far, the theory of using a computer in public wasn't worth the trouble; resume, exam or otherwise. I missed my office, I missed my bathroom and I couldn't ignore the fact that, for a place that's supposed to be hip and ambient, these places tend to destroy your will to concentrate. It felt like I was trying to recite a Shakespeare play from memory while running through the 'Slopsticle Course' on Double Dare.

"Good," I thought to myself; "This is telling me exactly what I need to know. Public web surfing is bad for your brain."

About a minute later, the Missus called me up and told me that the dinner party was over. Like a shot, I gathered my things and made a beeline for the door. On the car ride home, I tried to come to some sort of finality or official word on how I felt about public web surfing, but surprisingly, couldn't. While I still stand firm that owners of these places have no reason to let web surfers hang around without making regular purchases, I have no question that a coffee shop or bookstore can sometimes offer something that your home cannot (coffee and books, for one). In one way, it made me happy to know I have such a tranquil home life, but in another way, made me feel like my research still isn't over.

That night, as I was soaking in freezing cold water while the Missus blared the Funeral March from the master bedroom and put on her favorite black dress, I still couldn't understand why people are so damn weird.

Sound off in the comments section and enjoy your day.

Comments:
I'll use the coffee shop wi fi but I'll shit my pants before I poop in their toilet. Of course I live close enough to walk home, go and come back.
 
I have no idea why shop owners (i.e. "me") hang around, as it doesn't seem to pay off in the long run.

However, as to why people do it, I'd hazard a guess that you work a 9-5 job around other people. For those of us that don't, sometimes going out and working is a nice chance a pace. You can be around people without actually having to talk to them, and you can people watch to your heart's content. Oh, and if I actually *go* somewhere, I'm less likely to procrastinate (although I still check Facebook.)

While the bulk of my heavy duty writing is done at home, many of my as-seen-on-TV ramblings have been created in the nearest coffeeshop. (And the WiFi charge is a tax writeoff. As is my latte.)

FWIW.
 
When I was in sales for a big corporation, I attempted to use my laptop at a few coffee shops to check email.

Much like you, I couldn't concentrate becaue the people around me were so annoying. Well, not the people really. My tendency to be easily distracted.

I have the attention span of a gerbil on crack when in public.
 
They're building a big fancy McDonalds, the next town over, complete with a coffee bar and Wi-fi...

I personally don't like to go to a destination for the soul purpose of using my laptop (there is a reason I bought a $100 router..) nevermind going to a McDonalds in the first place.

(Oh, and I bought a Macbook...I thought you'd get a kick outta that)
 
Back in the days when I was young(er), immature(r), and simple minded(er), I would spend my days in the nearby WiFi McDonalds, playing Mario Kart DS online. I never bought anything more than chips.

And you know what?

I loved every second.
 
WILL - I have serious problems with all public restrooms, both filthy and clean. If I'm not at my home base, it's an anxiety attack waiting to happen.

SLACK - Makes total sense considering your specific line of work, but the rest of the people that aren't expected to crank out Emmy-nominated television shows still have some explaining to do. I do enjoy the people-watching, but I find it's easier to do whilst holding a magazine or book. With the laptop, I feel like I just look suspicious.

JT - My problem exactly. It just feels so out of place for me, and the outside distractions are enough to send me reeling back home. If you can work competently in this sort of environment, then more power to you.

CAVEMAN - I think people sometimes just use their computers in public because they can. Furthermore, congrats on your purchase of a MacBook! That's just good stuff all around, right there.

CARROT - I'm refraining from making a 'chips' joke, but I really need to keep a handle on the whole British/English references thing. I must say, however, that your situation seems different and totally justified in that you're a younger kid that may need to venture outside of the house for more sanctuary. It's an extracurricular activity much like going to the mall, and it shocks me that I don't see these places crawling with youths instead of adults. I know I'd be doing it at that age.
 
Personally, I hate lugging a laptop around. And to me, a bookstore is in the business of selling books, and I'm pretty much just there to buy books. Plus, I spend 8 hours a day on a computer at work, and then additional time logged on at home, and I agree that I'm more comfortable doing my internetting in familiar surroundings. My husband is one of those people who insists on taking his laptop pretty much everywhere, though. It goes with him to the radio station (his second job), to family functions (as long as they have wireless internet), and on vacation (it was actually pretty useful the last time).
 
I'm just happy that a lot of people sort of agree with me on this. I thought for sure that I was going to get my ass keelhauled for no reason in particular.

You raised a new thought in me, Maus, and that is the fact that some people are just flat-out addicted to the computer. Add that to caffiene, and it almost makes perfect sense.
 
CAVEMAN- Bravo on buying a MacBook! I love mine, as well as our iMac.

CARROT- Chips...that's adorable! I can't eat the "chips" at McDonald's though, because they have beef tallow in them for flavoring.

The only place we really bring our laptops is when we go on vacation. The hotel usually has a wi-fi connection, and it's nice to be able to get directions on the fly or look up a nice restaurant to eat at without having to pester the concierge desk. Oh, and check Facebook.
 
Vacations make sense, because it keeps you in contact, like a phone. Just going downtown for a coffee is another story.

However, it's also the modern equivalent of the newspaper; an act of subterfuge by a lone patron to keep from looking too sad. I guess if I went to coffee places by myself a lot, I may bring one along, as well, if only to keep myself occupied.

If you're with someone, though, it's 100% unnecessary.
 
One time I saw somebody playing Quake (or some similar shooter game) in a Panera Bread. That's about the only story I have about a computer-in-a-public-place person
 
See, that's just completely unnecessary.
 
Playing Quake at a Panera? It doesn't get much sadder than that.
 
I am one of the slim minority of computer-owning individuals without regular home Internet access. When I moved to my current apartment I decided that I'd forego getting a cable & Internet hook-up mainly because I wanted to see if I could live without it. My old HP laptop was a piece of unreliable crap and I figured if I really needed something online I could just get it done at work. A year passed without problem aside from screwing around at work too much, but then I got a shiny new MacBook. I fully intended to call up Charter the next day, but when I fired it up for the first time in my apartment it found someone else's open WiFi router. "Free Internet!" I thought, and I never did bother to get my own hook-up. It's been a year and a half now, and I'd say about 30% I can steal Internet from my neighbors. Now I've been telling myself that I'm waiting for AT&T to get out to Middleton, but really I'm just lazy and a procrastinator. On the rare occasion that I really need something online, I pack up the laptop and drive to a coffee shop or bar. I kind of prefer going to the local bar where I can grab a small table and have a couple of brews.
 
I can see how working in public would be distracting, but I actually concentrate more easily in coffee shops. If I'm at home I can sleep, or play with my cats, or clean, or iron my sheets, or pressure wash my porch. In public, I'd better look busy because everyone else looks so busy. My senior year of undergrad I wrote all my papers at the coffee shop (before that I didn't drink coffee, so it never occurred to me to go there). Now I live in Baltimore, which doesn't seem to understand the idea of coffee shops. They all close at a ridiculous hour (like 5 pm) and don't have comfy seats. I blame this fact for my grad papers being so much more difficult to write.
 
If I'm trying to pay attention to something, I actually do better if I have a little bit of distraction rather than none at all. If there's none I'll distract myself, but if there's a little I have to focus past it.
 
I can't download corpse pr0n at home because my mom gets mad.
 
We've pretty much come to the conclusion that our next computer will be a Mac. My husband is very tech savvy and used to love upgrading our machine (which he built - he is also constantly called upon to "fix" the computers of family and friends...which usually means totally reformatting them when they've been overrun with malware and ten million junk programs that no one will own up to having installed), but he just doesn't have the time any more. We'd just rather buy a fctory built computer, and we've been looking at Macs lately for some of the features, so we're either going to get an iMac or MacBook probably at the end of the year.
 
MICHAEL D - This is the same exact reason I need to sleep with some type of whirring device on. Total silence is a recipe for Insomnia, and zero distraction is a chance for your brain to start screwing with you.

Thanks for commenting, by the way. Don't be a stranger, even though I think I've seen you sound off a time or two before.

BERRY JO - I can see where public work would give you more of a sense of deadline and focus, and hey, whatever works for you. It's just the 'Quake at Panera Bread' people that make me want to punch necks.

'There Are No Comfy Seats In Baltimore' sounds like the title of a great emo song. Patent Pending.

Thanks for commenting!

WALLRAWK - I wrote an essay awhile back about Internet pirating; essentially how awesome it is when you stumble across it for the first time.

Also, it sounds like you're the type that will go to a Wi-Fi bar, and...you know...actually buy things. Laptop or not, that makes you a good customer.
 
We have a MacBook and a nice Windows laptop, and it's unbelieavable the difference between the 2. My Mac boots up in like 2 seconds and everything is instantaneous. The Windows machine is constantly bogged down because it's trying to download antivirus updates, Windows updates, and god knows what else. Both laptops are virtually empty, so there is no reason one should be slower than the other, besides it being an inferior product.
 
I can't download corpse pr0n at home because my mom gets mad.

I guess you'll just have to stick to the animal stuff then :)
 
COMET - Well, maybe if you stopped saving it as wallpaper...

MAUS/HATHERY - This. The difference in startup time and lag is absolutely night and day, and yeah, they're both completely empty. They both work just fine, but if anyone's looking for a side-by-side comparison between PC's and Macs, I give you Exhibit A.
 
Is this day over yet?!?!?
 
Sweet Jesus, I hope it itsn't over. I still need to make about $2000 more in sales.

Anyone want to buy a few bottles of high-end Scotch? That should do it nicely.
 
Wait a minute, JT. Can I order liquor through you via mail-order? That can't be legal, but I'm crossing my fingers just in case.
 
Legal? Hell no.

Do-able? Email me...
 
I'm just saying that I like alcohol and you sell it for a living, so it would be beneficial for both of us to work together on a sale or two. Send me a catalog.
 
Will do. You want the works - beer, wine, and liquor?
 
Might as well check out everything.
 
Do you have any Passion Fruit Malibu? :)
 
It's like Pampered Chef for alcoholics.
 
So it's high quality and fun? :)
 
Well, duh!

(The Missus recently purchased approximately $1,000 worth of Pampered Chef kitchen accessories, most of which I believe serve absolutely no purpose but to look expensive. Our kitchen is so pimped out it's embarrassing.)
 
I didn't purchase them---I EARNED them :)
 
An officer just walked through weapons screening w/ the most fantastic she-mullet I've ever seen...
 
This comment has been removed by the author.
 
Well, that sounds about right.
 
Behold the power of the she-mullet!

Combined with a bottle of passion fruit Malibu, and that officer would be UNSTOPPABLE!
 
I have discovered my not-so super power: the ability to post the last comment on any given thread. I am the COMMENT SECTION KILLER!
 
Not this time, she-devil. This post gets another day above the fold, due to intense popularity and traffic. Not bad, considering I almost deleted it at the coffee place because I thought it was asinine.
 
Today's Topics Of Interest:

1. Joe Biden's DNC Speech Last Night.

2. Michael Phelps to Host SNL Premiere on 9/13.

3. 140 Inches of Snow for the Midwest this Winter?
 
4. College Football starts today.
 
Right on. Speaking of sports, I finally got FSN North in HD, so I can watch the remainder of the Brewers season in High-Def. And it only took about 130 games to get it.
 
Michael Phelps to Host SNL Premiere on 9/13.

Because late-night tv doesn't have a serious impact on the paper bag industry already, right? Maybe he'll do the entire show shirtless?

I watched Michelle Obabma's speech on he first night, and that's been the extent of it. Has the convention always dragged on this long, or is this just the first time I'm paying enough attention to notice?
 
This is usually how it goes. Barack speaks tonight at Mile High Stadium, I believe.

I'm not sure if Michael Phelps can read, so this SNL venture should be interesting. Whenever they have athletes on the show, it's a total crapshoot; they're either hilarious (Michael Jordan, Tom Brady, Peyton Manning) or abysmal (Nancy Kerrigan).
 
I have to say, though, their ratings will be completely through the roof, so it's a good call either way.
 
Huzzah! My comment killing streak endeth.

I'm not gonna lie, I'm super excited to see Obama accept the nomination tonight. I mean, regardless of how you feel about the man, you have to admit the exceptional momentousness of the occasion. I'm likely to get a bit misty-eyed.
 
Agreed, Emily. The CDP is anything but a political forum, but the sheer historical significance of tonight is a big damn deal. This is an important night for American history.

After seeing him speak last night, it would appear as if Biden was a brilliant choice for VP.
 
I'm eating a chocolate pudding Snack Pack right now, and for some reason it made me think of the CDP.
 
The dream has been fulfilled.

Are we going out drinking soon or what?
 

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