The coffee shop near my house has always done a very good job balancing the needs of customers between those who want to come in and enjoy a conversation with a friend to those who want to come in an work on their laptops. During the week they limit the number of tables that people with laptops can sit at so there are tables for other types of customers. They do this by placing a small sign on the table saying “No Laptops At This Table.”
I am sure that there is probably some sound economic and business argument for doing this, such as a person who is working on their laptop is not a likely to buy as much as a person who isn’t over the same length of time. I am not saying that is or should be the argument, but just one that I have heard people make and that makes rational sense to me.
When I stopped by there yesterday, I noticed that they had changed the tabletop signs. The signs now read “No Laptops Or iPads At This Table.” I was struck by the change – why include iPads? I understand that an iPad can do some of the things that a laptop can do – send email, type up a document in Pages, edit a document in Documents-To-Go, etc. But my iPad is also my book (I keep about 60 ebooks on my iPad) and my music player. And my iPhone has similar functionality to my iPhone, why not ban the iPhone too? As I looked around, I noticed someone at another table reading on their Kindle and listening to their iPod right in front of the same sign. No issue there.
I won’t debate whether lumping the iPad and similar devices together with laptops is fair, but I think it points to a shift that is happening in our society. As devices add capabilities, it is becoming harder to separate devices and harder to say what is acceptable where. Just as some companies now have email free Fridays, I would expect that as technology intrudes more into our everyday lives, we will do more to place partitions around it and try to find balance with it, rather unsuccessfully.