Saturday, June 13, 2009

The Coffee House: Where Strangers Become Acquaintances

Tonight I am giving a talk at The Phillips Emporium, an independent coffee house in the college town of Bloomsburg, PA. The subject of the talk at the coffee house is - the coffee house. This is a minor example of what sociologists mean by reflexivity. Modern institutions depend more and more on feedback about how they are working to do the next round of work and improvement. Coffee houses, as venues of critical thought, have always been self-critical. Pamphlets promoting, attacking, and analyzing coffee houses have been issued since the glory days of the coffee house in the 17th century.

It is probably not surprising that coffee house intellectuals get together in a coffee house to talk about coffee houses as a place to be intellectual. But coffee houses have also always served as places of business - and not just the business of selling coffee. Intellectuals do not usually focus on this element of coffee house life. Businesses that grew out of coffee houses, such as the stock exchange, have developed more exclusive places of conversation, most notably the private club. Still, new business ideas are born in coffee houses all the time, and low-level business, especially in the arts, is conducted in coffee houses to this day.

The coffee house is the best place to bring people together for clear-headed talk.

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