Anywhere you go these days almost everyone is glued to a screen, especially in coffee shops where customers with blue-lit stares often seem oblivious to everything from their friends down to that already cold soy latte the barista brought over half an hour ago.
At the Faraday Café, however, this never happens. Because this pop-up cafe in Vancouver automatically blocks all wireless signals in order to give people a much-needed technology break.
People are looking for opportunities to opt out and leave their phones behind.
— Julien Thomas
The concept is the brainchild of artist Julien Thomas. “There are already places where it’s social custom to switch off your devices,” he says. “But we wanted to build one where you didn’t have to ask people to do so, a place where they wouldn’t have a choice.”
Developed with the help of Hughes Codon Marler Architects, the cafe gets its name from the concept of the Faraday cage, after Michael Faraday, the famous English scientist. It’s a simple structure made of conductive material that is commonly used to protect electronic equipment from lightning strikes; it also blocks the passage of electronic signals.
The pop-up installation made its first appearance in July where, for two weeks, it served freshly pressed coffee to the people at the Chinatown Experiment — a storefront in Vancouver designed to house pop-up projects.
Being physically unplugged allowed me to unplug mentally.
— Lawrence Lee, customer
The cafe immediately started attracting an eclectic clientele, from long-lost friends looking for a heart-to-heart catch-up to groups of anarchists looking for a meeting place away from potential prying eyes.
Many patrons were simply young creatives who found the idea intriguing. “Being physically unplugged allowed me to unplug mentally. The lack of interruption, or rather the lack of the possibility of interruption, frees up mental space. For me, that extra space stimulates creative work,” says Lawrence Lee, one of the first customers.
The place also attracted an unexpected number of customers concerned about the health effects of electromagnetic waves. “It was ironic,” says Thomas. “They walked into a space for no devices with all their devices to measure electronic wavelengths and couldn’t put them down!”
Thomas makes clear that the Faraday Café is not a statement against the potential health hazards associated with wireless technology. Instead, he wants to trigger a conversation about the “bigger issue,” namely, our dependence on technology and the way this affects human interaction.
“I think people are looking for opportunities to opt out and leave their phones behind,” he says.
Anyway, what better way to escape that call from your partner or boss?
Julien is already in talks with a firm interested in franchising Faraday Café in Chicago and throughout the Midwest. Those keen on getting their dose of wireless coffee will need to follow the cafe on Instagram for updates. That said, Faraday technology is easy enough that other shops and businesses could start incorporating similar policies.
The downside is that anyone going out to a Faraday venue won’t have an excuse to evade boring company and will have to shelve that convenient trick of looking up facts online.
The upside: Conversation could actually prove to be fun. Your friends might even turn out to be more entertaining than that cat video you sent to them on Facebook.
Why you should care
Sometimes, connecting to people might require blocking out the instrusive world of cell phones and the Internet.