Randy Greenwald

Concerning Life as It Is Supposed to Be

In Praise of Laptopistan

I read with amusement and identification this article about the laptop/coffee shop culture. I find that I am not alone in finding that I work more productively in a public environment. The author notes this.

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…..
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….
Back home in Toronto, with my ergonomically correct chair, spacious desk and dedicated Internet connection, I pulled up my notes from the journey to Laptopistan and tried to write. Within 10 minutes, I was lost in Facebook and watching old “Soul Train” clips on YouTube.
So I unplugged my laptop, traded my sweat pants for jeans and walked two blocks to the nearest coffee shop. There was some country music playing at a comfortable volume, and the familiar sight of cords along the floor. I took a seat between a guy working on an identical MacBook Pro and a woman drawing in a journal, and I worked like I was back in Atlas: productively, contentedly, fueled by a steady diet of Earl Grey tea, an economically acceptable quantity of cookies, and that social pressure I was craving.

There are aspects here that some may not really understand. It is easier for some of us to be focused when the environment in which we work is stripped of the familiar. I prosper under the general background hum/white noise of the coffee shop environment.

However, Laptopistan as described in this article and found in Brooklyn and Toronto does not exist in my suburban Florida context. I am working this morning from the closest Laptopistani imitation, a local Starbucks. I have been reading theology since 8:15 A.M. with a focus that would not happen elsewhere. But I’m not sitting where I started. Shortly after claiming the warm seat by the window, a woman came and sat near, a woman in high heel black boots soon joined by others in identical attire, some kind of high heel black boot beauty cult. It wasn’t their public meeting that was the great distraction. It was the woman’s strong, penetrating voice which insisted that it be listened to.

Nevertheless, I still gravitate to places like this, but not only for the focus they afford. I come here to write sermons. It helps me as I write to look around me and see people instead of empty space and books, as I would see in my study. It helps for me to see ordinary, lost and searching people. It helps me to see them and ask, “Am what I am thinking of saying going to make any sense to them at all?”

Those I see here may never hear the sermon revisions they inspire. Nevertheless, I think I’m a better preacher because of them.

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3 Comments

  1. Connie

    🙂 I understand completely!

  2. Eva

    I too like to work at coffee shops when working on a presentation–mostly because for the most part there is no one there tugging on my leg, wiping their nose on my shoulder, asking me to hold them, or screaming, “Mama!” from the other end of the house. But the ubiquitous lady with the annoyingly loud voice is always there–somehow she always finds me. So, I have discovered the annoying-lady antidote. Bring a set of headphones and go to http://www.simplynoise.com for some good old white noise background. (I tried classical music, but it was too distracting because it clashed with the coffee shop music.)

  3. I think I’d need to go all the way and get noise canceling headphones. But those are too expensive. Thanks for the noise site. I may just have to avail myself of that some day!

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