Free WiFi: Different Demographics Use it Differently

As you should know by now, Starbucks has, for good or evil, opened their WiFi up for free and unlimited time at all their stores.  Let’s start off with saying that I’m not too sure that’s a good idea (at the moment).  That being said, here’s my personal experiences at several stores across the USA.

In the “Old Days”, you received or purchased a Starbucks Card and registered it, along with a unique user name and password.  With that registration, every time you either used the card, or just had it swiped, you’d receive authorization for two hours of WiFi free.  It seemed like a good idea at the time.  You could check your e-mail, surf the web, or even jot out a quick blog entry (like I’m doing now, at Starbucks).  Then the someone had a brilliant idea to open up the WiFi for free with no time limit.  While, for most people, this isn’t that big of a deal, however, with the current economy, and broadband not the cheapest commodity (that’s another blog entry I need to write), more and more people seem to be making Starbucks their office away from the office.

Many podcasts and bloggers have shown folks literally camping out at a Starbucks all day (one guy even brought a desktop computer in, complete with headphones and MIDI keyboard) without purchasing anything.  WTF?  Is that really fair to the store, who is nice enough NOT to charge you $4+ and hour (like the airports)?  Other blogs and media have suggested a sort of etiquette for behavior at coffee shops offering free WiFi.  I have had mixed observations, depending on where I was at the time of how people “use” the WiFi.  First a disclaimer.

This is NOT in any way scientific.  There are no quantitative analysis data present.  These are simply a conglomeration of observations generalized to make more of a social statement rather than a tool for a business model.  If someone out there wants something like that, I’d be happy to accommodate their request, for a fair amount of cash.  Contact me via this blog.  OK here we go.

In most of the “business” districts it seems people just don’t have the time to “hang out” all day at a coffee shop.  If they’re employed that is.  Many of the folks I saw sticking around for hours were either looking for jobs online, emailing resumes, talking to prospective clients/employers, or giving demos of their talents via WiFi.  OK, I get it.  I also noticed that most of these folks BOUGHT SOMETHING every few hours or so, CLEANED UP after themselves, and were quite friendly to the staff.  Moving from the business sector of the various cities and towns, I headed out the where the “kids” hang out.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I think today’s kids are pretty brilliant.  They just lack some manners that, at least my generation learned at home, with a parent.  So, if school isn’t in and you get down to where the “hip kids” hang out, be prepared for a different scene.  I’m not talking College kids either, that’s a few paragraphs down.  The kids I’m talking about are the tweens who have better tech than I do, because it keeps them out of mommy and daddy’s hair.  Consequence is that many of the coffee shops have become “after school programs” all their own.  Not to generalize, some of the kids are doing their homework, reading, or generally not bothering anyone else.  Many though, are loud, raucous and generally hog up the bandwidth streaming videos, or playing on-line games.  Oh, and their not “paying the freight” for the bandwidth either.  I have overheard several times the following conversation tidbits: 

  • “Wow, my parents block this site at home!”
  • “My folks don’t like it when I play on-line at home.”
  • “Hey! Check out this link I found to crack parental control in Windows”
  • “Cool! Let me get on chat now that my folks aren’t looking over my shoulder, (insert name here) seems so much older, but I really like him/her…”

The list goes on, but basically, the kids are running amok on open WiFi and with no supervision.  By the way, what are tweens doing drinking coffee anyway?  Ugh!

Suburbs in the morning are full of the folks grabbing a cup and a muffin and trying to get a jump on the day.  Not too many laptops, but many many iPods and, now iPads and other portable devices populate the morning hours of the shops off the main roads into the city.  The rest of the days users are the business folk (from above), the “soccer moms” and various passers by.  

Not so nice parts of town don’t really attract those with the high tech WiFi devices, so they’re not an issue.  Not too many homeless or “down on their luck” folks can afford the luxury of coffee shops, or WiFi for that matter.  Though I have seen some exceptions, I’m generalizing the norm.

College towns are quite different with respect to who is abusing the coffee shop’s generosity or not.  Many of the private shops welcome the students, offering discounts with a student ID, etc.  These are mecca for the tech hip folks who have mastered the Internet as both a tool and a toy.  They do pay their way, don’t seem to abuse, nor harass others.  Guess they ARE learning something there.

Finally, a note on culture.  Cafes, pubs and diners have been meeting places for many many years.  The coffee shop is a relatively new venue.  Also, WiFi and the various other means of communications media are very new.  How they will come together is anybody’s guess.  Etiquette will also filter down to this “Wild West” era and businesses will either embrace the free WiFi or not.  I have noticed that I too am keeping mental notes on which restaurant, sports pub, or coffee shop had free WiFi and which don’t.  OOPS!  It’s been a couple of hours now, guess I’d better go, or buy something, but how much coffee can one drink in a day?

Cheers!

 

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One Comment on “Free WiFi: Different Demographics Use it Differently”

  1. David Ehm Says:

    More information about the biological effects of non-ionizing radiation from wireless technology is coming out every day. Enough is not being done by cities, counties, states and the Federal Government to protect us from the potentially devastating health and environmental effects. Through the 1996 telecommunications act the telecoms are shielded from liability and oversight. Initially cell phones were released with no pre-market safety testing despite the fact the Government and the Military have known for over 50 years that radio frequency is harmful to all biological systems (inthesenewtimes dot com/2009/05/02/6458/.). Health studies were suppressed and the 4 trillion dollar a year industry was given what amounts to a license to kill.
    On it’s face, the 1996 telecommunications act is unconstitutional and a cover-up. Within the fine print city governments are not allowed to consider “environmental” effects from cell towers. They should anyway! It is the moral and legal obligation of our government to protect our health and welfare? Or is it? When did this become an obsolete concept? A cell tower is a microwave weapon capable of causing cancer, genetic damage & other biological problems. Bees, bats, humans, plants and trees are all affected by RF & EMF. Communities fight to keep cell towers away from schools yet they allow the school boards to install wi fi in all of our schools thereby irradiating our kids for 6-7 hours each day. Kids go home and the genetic assault continues with DECT portable phones, cell phones, wi fi and Wii’s. A tsunami of cancers and early alzheimer’s await our kids. Young people under the age of 20 are 420% more at risk of forming brain tumors (Swedish study, Dr. Lennart Hardell) because of their soft skulls, brain size and cell turn over time. Instead of teaching “safer” cell phone use and the dangers of wireless technology our schools mindlessly rush to wireless bending to industry pressure rather than informed decision making. We teach about alcohol, tobacco, drugs and safe sex but not about “safer” cell phone use. We are in a wireless trance, scientists are panicking while young brains, ovaries and sperm burns.


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