Cortado for the public sphere

The Nordic (Finland, Sweden, Norway & Denmark) countries have for a long time led the world in coffee consumption per capita (between 8-12 kg per person and year, compared to the US which has about 4 kg). The high amounts of coffee are not necessarily the same as drinking quality coffee.

In the history of coffee the actual location where the coffee was served has played an important part in the intellectual, political and social discussion in society. Coffee Houses where important in the development and support of the public sphere. In his work The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere, Habermas points argues that to develop a public sphere requires things like disregard of status and inclusivity and as such the coffee house provided an excellent infrastructure.

But this intellectual discussion does not spring from infrastructure alone. Twenty years ago coffee (in Swedish cafés) was badly brewed and stood warm for long periods of time. The quality of the coffee and the discussions was rather low. But there has been a fascinating development in café culture in most (all) Nordic countries with better raw material and freshly made ‘espresso’ style coffee.

So the coffee gets better but importance of the café for the public sphere is still minimal. The café does however play an important role in providing infrastructure for the public domain. It is not that we go to coffee houses to discuss the politics of the day but by providing a public place to sit and even more importantly access to the Internet through “free” wifi the coffee house is an office for the traveler, for the creative individual, for the small consultant. It is a shelter were we can sit and work.

entering the public sphere

The coffee house takes over the role of the library and the agora. It is a warm home for the digital nomad with a laptop providing access to the larger group & context of a larger discussion. The practice of sitting in public and staring at a screen may be seen as anti-social but that is only perceived so by those who fail to see the sociality of technology mediated communication.

The role of the coffee house is not what Habermas described, it is not the vibrant places of social discussion among the people who are physically co-located but if you remove the coffee or the ability of the shops to provide wifi for the wifi-less an important access point would disappear. Habermas recognized inclusivity and the coffee shop wifi provides just that. Along with a decent cup of joe.

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