The coffee shop is the future of . . . well, everything

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The future of work, pretty obviously, will include more and more of us moving out of our cubes and into coffee shops and coworking spaces. With the technology to get your job done from nearly anywhere, why tie yourself to a soul-crushing, gas-guzzling commute and a rigid nine-to-five schedule? Plus, plenty of experts tell us, more and more folks are becoming independent contractors who won’t even have a corporate base to flee from. But are there any other areas of life that will become less like we know them now and more like the current cafe experience?

Yes, says lawyer and futurist Stephen T. Gordon on the blog the Speculist recently. Gordon agrees with the chorus of voices saying offices will become coffee shops, saying:

We’re going back to the future: the modern office was birthed in 17th century coffee shops. Steven Johnson has argued that coffee fueled the enlightenment. It was certainly a more enlightening beverage than the previous choice of alcohol.

The need for offices grew as the equipment for mental work was developed starting in the late 19th centuries. That need appears to have peaked about 1980. It was a rare person who could afford the computers, printers, fax machines, and mailing/shipping equipment of that time.

Now a single person with $500 can duplicate most of those functions with a single laptop computer. So the remaining function of the office is to be that place that clients know to find you. . . . Groups for one project will form and then disband and then reform with new members for the next project. What will that workplace look like? Probably closer to Starbucks than Bob Par’s cubicle.

That version of the future of work should sound familiar to any WebWorkerDaily reader, but it’s not just offices that Gordon foresees transforming (or reverting) into coffee shops. He sees retail stores and universities going that way as well. Citing the likes of MITx and the fact that the rise in tuition costs has outpaced inflation for years, Gordon writes:

Cheaper ultimately wins. Repeat that story a million times over the next few years and you begin to see how the local colleges – which already are overcharging for their product – begin to suffer in favor of free programs like MITx.

Eventually you could have local campuses becoming places where MITx students seek tutoring, network, and socialize – reclaiming some of the college experience they’d otherwise have lost. [Fellow Speculist blogger Phil Bowermaster] thought this sounded like college as a giant coffee shop. I agree. Every education would be ad hoc. It would be student-directed toward the job market she’s aiming for.

And how will “coffeeshopification,” as Gordon dubs it, come to retail? Just compare the experience of shopping at Amazon.com for Christmas presents with braving your local big-box retailer. “Which is more enjoyable: Starbucks or Walmart?” asks Gordon, answering:

For the sane: Starbucks. So if you can accomplish your Walmart shopping at Starbucks, why do it any other way? Also, imagine the 3D print shop of the future. You put in your order, probably from your smart phone, and then go pick it up. What does the lobby of such a business look like? Again: a coffee shop.

Should we all prepare to drink a lot more coffee in the future (or invest in coffee producers)?

Image courtesy of Flickr user Charleston’s TheDigitel

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