On a recent visit to my favorite local coffee shop, I pulled out my netbook (this was before I got my iPad) to do a little surfing. The server told me that they had instituted a new policy: No Computers. The strange thing is that this place had previously embraced the ‘net crowd (or at least I thought it did because they offered free WiFi).
They Giveth and they Taketh Away
How strange: free WiFi, but no computers allowed. I understand why they implemented this new policy: they didn’t want me buying a $2 latte and occupying a seat for 4 hours. Not good for business. If this catches on (as it may be), it may become an issue for virtual law office lawyers and mobile lawyers, like Niki Black, who — based on her tweets — often gets work done at coffee shops. (Niki also writes about iPadding lawyers at Legal iPad).
What’s a Computer?
I was really devastated. I loved that coffee shop — in part because of the free WiFi (they have good cappuccino, too). My gut reaction to the news was, “Umm. OK. Can I use my iPhone?” Thankfully, the answer was yes, so I used the WiFi to surf on that for a while. And that got me thinking: What’s a computer? My netbook (a Toshiba Mini NB205 Series 10.1-Inch Netbook (160GB Hard Drive) isn’t a “full powered” laptop, but it is definitely a computer. My iPhone 3GS can do almost anything my netbook can do. Why is it OK to surf on my iPhone, but not my netbook? I’m still filling up a seat at a rate of fifty cents an hour.
At that point in time, I had already mentally committed to getting and iPad. I just had to figure out if it as going to be the WiFi-only version or the WiFi+3G (I subsequently decided to get the 64GB WiFi-only version for reasons that I’ll probably write about). But, prior to the big announcement about the iPad, I was considering an Amazon Kindle. I never got one (the iPad obviated that for me), but that day at the coffee shop, I wondered: would they let me sit there with a Kindle? I could read a book on one of those for hours and still slowly sip that latte. For that matter, I could do the same thing with a paperback.
Of course, my current, real-life concern is whether they’ll let me use my new iPad while enjoying a cup of joe. I haven’t been there since I acquired it, but I’ll keep you posted. If challenged, I think my response will be, “This is not a computer, it’s a magical and revolutionary product at an unbelievable price.” And what if I just use my iPad to read an iBook? (see Kindle issue above). I’m so confused.
Are they Luddites?
Perhaps people tend to stay planted in coffee shop seats longer if they are surfing the web than when reading an old fashioned book (I haven’t done the research). If that’s the case, then I get it. If not, then what’s next: banning all devices and media? Absent any evidence to the contrary, there is only one conclusion: coffee shop owners are a bunch of Luddites.
What do you make of all this?
Are you running into the same problems at your local caffeine supply place? How will this affect the mobile lawyer? Perhaps more importantly, will judges start allowing iPads in their courtrooms? The United States District Court for the Southern District of New York has started to allow personal electronic devices under certain conditions. You can see Standing Order M10-468 In The Matter of Electronic Devices and General Purposes Computing Devices here (opens PDF). It’s a start.
Knowledge Management, Technology & Social Media for Lawyers and Law Firms