Coffee shops unplugging Wi-Fi

- Manager Phillipe Chatelain and his cohorts at Downtown Uptown on the Upper East Side keep the coffee, tea, beer, cocktails, and snacks flowing from 8 a.m. to midnight but shut off the weeknight Wi-Fi at 5 p.m. and never even turn it on on weekends. DTUT encourages offline computering sessions but also hopes its lack of nighttime internet encourages more social behavior from more social people.

Birch Coffee has taken that fostering of human interaction a step further by inviting customers to take a place card with a prompt on it labeling themselves as open to conversation with a stranger. Birch Coffee co-owner and co-founder Jeremy Lyman calls this Birch's "ignition initiative."

After six or so years participating in the internet age, Birch shut off Wi-Fi at all eight of its locations 18 months ago to free up seating and welcome back the age of conversation.

By restricting Wi-Fi, coffee shops like Birch and DTUT not only satisfy the sensibilities of their management but also provide the rest of us with an alternative, satisfying the need for a cozy indoor public meeting place where we might feel comfortable hosting a meeting, discussing any matter above a whisper, or using our voice to make a friend.

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