On the New York Times “Bits” blog, Nick Bilton posts the story of what happened when he tried to read a Kindle or iPad at restaurants that don’t permit computer use during selected hours, or at all:
I looked up at [the coffee shop employee] with an incredulous look and replied, “This isn’t a computer, it’s an e-book reader.”
He then told me that the “device” in my hand had a screen and required batteries, so it was obviously “some variation of a computer.” The coffee shop, I was told, did not allow the use of computers.
He then goes on to discuss reports from the Annenberg School’s Center for the Digital Future, and Amazon itself, on how readers are moving away from print in favor of digital, and so on.
But he doesn’t ever bring up the real reason coffee shops don’t let people use computers. It’s not out of any form of luddism or hatred of technology per se; it’s undoubtedly the same reason that the Panera bakery/coffeeshop chain limits the use of its wifi to a half-hour per MAC address at the height of the lunch rush—because otherwise people who use those devices tend to just sit around and keep using them, taking up space that is needed as more customers come in.
Yes, the Kindle and iPad get lumped in with computers. (I wonder if someone reading on an iPhone would be treated the same way? “This isn’t a computer, it’s my cell phone.”) And perhaps the employees could stand to lighten up a bit. But it’s easy to see why a busy location wouldn’t want someone to hang around taking up space for whatever reason. Perhaps someone ostentatiously reading a print book might be asked to leave after he finished eating, too.