A blogger reports Panera in Santa Monica turns off its free Wi-Fi from noon to 2 pm: This dovetails neatly with an article I wrote in May about Victrola Coffee & Art where they instituted a plan of turning Wi-Fi off during the weekends to improve their cafe culture. As TechDirt (who supplied the link) notes, there was a point when offering Wi-Fi filled in empty times for cafes and other establishments. Now, laptop users may be creating a logjam.
As Victrola told me, and I've heard from other sources, a single laptop user might occupy a table for four. Larger tables are often located against a wall near a power outlet. Another coffee shop in Seattle, Herkimer, built long banquets with tables for two and outlets underneath, consolidating laptop users.
Update: My colleague Conrad Chavez, a co-author with me and two others on Real World Scanning and Halftones and fellow Seattleite, sent in this interesting observation about time and space:
I have a slightly different perspective on it. The cafes who are managing Wi-Fi do so in two ways: temporally or spatially. Panera, Victrola, Vivace (on Denny off Broadway), and others use the temporal approach, where they turn off the wireless at certain hours. Herkimer used the spatial approach during their remodel; when the owner expanded the cafe, he intentionally put zero outlets in the new section and put up a small sign pointing to the new "Computer Free Area," safe for traditional cafe users who do not want to see a sea of laptops. But they never turn off the wireless.