When I wake up in the morning, the first thing I do is put a kettle of water on the stove to make tea. Unlike Captain Picard’s preference for Earl Grey, I stick mostly to green tea to keep me caffeinated. I suspect that most of you have a similar ritual whether you reach for your morning Mt. Dew, tea, coffee, espresso, or a tall, skinny, half-caf, no whip, caramel machiatto from the local coffee shop.
The western obsession with caffeine has some interesting roots. On the NPR Science Friday podcast this week, Steven Johnson talked about how Age of Enlightenment in England coincides with the arrival of caffeine and the growing popularity of coffee shops as places where people with different backgrounds, like Benjamin Franklin and Joseph Priestley, came together over coffee and tea to talk about issues and new ideas. The coffee houses also introduced caffeine as a daily habit in people’s lives. At the time, one of the only other safe beverages was alcohol, since the water quality was poor, so some people went from being drunk by mid-morning every day to being caffeinated and alert throughout the day.
The collaborative history of coffee and tea is also interesting, particularly to web workers. Many of us spend our days working in home offices and other places with few people, but the local coffee shop can provide an alternative where we can meet people with diverse interests and different backgrounds. I have a couple of local coffee shops where other web workers tend to gather during the day, and I’ve found myself in interesting conversations with people who work in areas very different from my own. For example, earlier this week, I had an interesting discussion about podcasting with a couple of friends where we were sharing ideas and tips for hosting our video podcasts. I recently had a discussion with another friend about consuming RSS feeds within location based tracking applications.
In many ways, applications like Twitter and FriendFeed are allowing us to have similar cross-discipline discussions with interesting people online acting as at least a partial replacement for the coffee shop. I run across so many links and new technologies as a result of friends posting about them that I would have most likely missed without these applications.
These cross-discipline discussions can inspire new ideas and innovation, just like a science podcast about the invention of air inspired me to write this blog post for web workers.
What are your thoughts on coffee shops as a shared space for interesting discussions? What role does caffeine play in your life as a web worker? What would society be like if caffeine ceased to exist tomorrow?