I regret having missed the late 90s. Not that I missed them, I was alive of course, I just wasn’t old enough to have done any of the cool stuff. And by that I don’t mean to regret that I wasn’t old enough to engaged Monica Lewinsky in an illicit affair, or to have bought an expensive Hawaiian shirt. It’s the ‘dot-com’ boom that captured my imagination as a teen, but alas I was in completely the wrong place to have ever taken advantage of it. While budding young entrepreneurs in San Francisco were spending all day hooked on caffeine surfing the internet via this thing called ‘WiFi, I was in a country where your average city had one half-functional WiFi hotspot which most people referring to as a ‘Wufey hottie'(if they referred to it at all). If you’re wondering what country I’m referring to, I’ll give you a clue, it starts with ‘N’ and ends in ‘Hobbiton’.
Of course, I’ve been all around the world since then, and now find myself only slightly removed from the country where I started. Unfortunately my latest country of residence(Australia) doesn’t seem a whole lot better than NH(New Hobbiton) with respect to cafes that might be as conducive to entrepreneurship as the vibrant cafes of San Francisco.
And the situation in NH hasn’t gotten any better with time. If anything the situation might have even regressed since then.
A very close and extraordinarily attractive friend was in Ponsonby recently, and got strange looks for a) sitting by herself in a bar whilst not attempting to flirt with the waiters, & b) reading a book. Having lived in Auckland for a year, I can completely see this happening(since neither pastime is particularly encouraged in the ‘Supercity’).
The Auckland cafe and bar scene, as well as Auckland life itself, is now more about ‘being seen’ than it’s ever been before. And that culture is something I couldn’t really give a damn about. It sounds far too much like being at work to me. When you’re wining and dining clients it’s all about this kind of pageantry; taking them to a place that’s well known, respected, and horrendously expensive. It seems to me that people who want to ‘be seen’ are turning a relaxing past-time into something resembling a work chore. They’re trying to put themselves in situations where they have to be wary of not looking cool enough in front of their ‘clients’. Quite why people would voluntarily put themselves in these types of situations, outside of work hours, is beyond me.
It’s lead to the creation of cafes and bars that are like those cardboard cut-out set-pieces that you used to see in those old Hollywood movies. Intricately designed and looking a lot like the real New York or Paris on the outside, but at the end of the day, they’re just pieces of fucking wood with paint on them. Auckland even goes a step further and closes these sets off at 3PM. So paranoid are they of anybody actually mistaking those cardboard cafes for the real thing.
It’s hard to imagine JK Rowling writing her prize-winning work at an Auckland cafe or bar, or an entrepreneur running his or her exciting new business from there. Not with the staff who glance at you with their endearing ‘order or fuck off’ eyes, and patrons who insist on loudly letting everybody know how impressed everybody should be at the fact that they’re so ‘social’.
In that sort of an environment it’s easy to understand why my gorgeous friend was the odd one out, and also why most people in Australasia choose to socialise and read within the confines of their own houses.
New Hobbiton, and Australia too, needs to discover the art of creating ‘third places’. That’s the term for a place that is in-between home and work but is neither. They are very common outside of Australasia but, for whatever reason, not so common within it(except, perhaps, in Melbourne).
Australasia needs these third places. Japan has a huge number, and variety, of them, including short-term sleeping pods and all-night reading cafes. Australasia doesn’t necessarily need to go to this extreme, but it does need to stop charging for ‘experiences’ if it’s not going to provide them.
Let me put it this way: If all your cafe is doing is providing good coffee(even if it’s really really good coffee) then maybe they should consider lowering their prices. If they’re providing an experience though, a ‘third place’ that transcends the taste of the coffee, then perhaps they might even be justified in charging more. I have no problem paying $10 for a coffee, provided I’m not just getting a coffee.
And this lesson should be heeded by Australasian retailers too. If I go into a shop and it has comfortable couches, plays nice easy jazz music, and is generally so inviting that I don’t want, or feel pressure to, leave. Then I’m more likely to go back to that place, again and again. And the more times I go back the more likely I am to buy something that I never really wanted before I went in. That presents a huge opportunity for retailers. You can’t get that kind of an experience online but, unfortunately for the retail and hospitality sectors of Australasia(as well as the average Australasian consumer), that’s normally not what you get offline either.