In the Northern Territory – that state with a wild reputation in the hearts and minds of the rest of Australia – there is a wildly different café that will charge you a two dollar fee to use your mobile phone or other electronic device on the premises. This fee will be donated to a charity dedicated to families.
The knee-jerk reaction from my compatriots in the age bracket of a late ‘90s birth is that this is a stupid idea. Their not-so-well articulated arguments against it are that it is a nice and cute way to go promptly out of business.
Despite being a similar age to these people who become restive at the thought of being without their phones, I disagree. A café which actively promotes the non-use of phones, iPads and other gadgets is, I think a bastion of hope.
Comments on Facebook – perhaps posted from a smartphone – go along the lines of, Well, a phone is an important communication tool and sometimes you just need to access it – you shouldn’t have to pay for the privilege. Though, if you can’t survive the duration of a coffee without “keeping in touch with the universe”, there is a problem. And if there is something important – and I mean really important – it will be important enough for you to leave the café for.
Of course, I have a phone and I use it regularly – even, I’m sorry to say, late into the night – but I am strongly attracted to the phone-free café.
Besides, there would be other benefits to a non-phone friendly café. Indeed, something totally foreign and scary might occur, not that there is any guarantee of it. Perhaps strangers – random patrons of the café who come in regularly – might talk to each other. This is shocking, I know, but although it is something that I, as a 16-year-old, have only ever been able to witness in re-runs of Cheers on digital television, I think otherwise would-be strangers talking and meeting in a café is something that wouldn’t be too bad at all.
Never mind about strangers, though, there are friends you’ve already got to worry about first. I feel disheartened when, while having coffee with a friend, the first thing they do is get their phone out and check it. Is my conversational prowess in fact boring? Are there other people they would rather be talking with? Is that what they’re doing on their phones? Am I just the fall back option?
This is not about some quaint ideal of living in the past and returning to a simpler time. It wasn’t simpler. How did people organise to go out with each other when they didn’t even have a landline telephone at home? That’s impressive, but not something I suggest we return to. There’s no thin edge of the wedge effect imminent here. No, I’m just suggesting that after we’ve organised to meet up we could actually talk to each other or even open ourselves up to the possibility of meeting some new.
With that, my best wishes to the Cornucopia café at the Northern Territory Museum and Art Gallery.