Innovation, the Internet, and Coffee Shops

In the 1650’s, coffee shops in England were a center for innovation and the creation of good ideas. Steven Johnson explains in his TED talk from 2010 that the layout of the coffee shops were very conducive to innovation. People from various backgrounds could get together and share their thoughts and ideas. From this sharing and combining of ideas, new and revolutionary ideas were formed. Johnson argues that this sharing of ideas was a contributing factor to the Enlightenment in Europe.

(The video is about 18 minutes long. It’s a really interesting talk, but if you don’t want to watch the whole thing I only reference parts from 0:00-2:40 and 6:40-9:15)

Johnson believes that an arrangement like those coffee shops are the best for creating new ideas. He refers to theme as “liquid networks.” This means that people are constantly engaging with each other, sharing their ideas, and developing new ideas. They facilitate the creation of new ideas because people keep adding new information that could be useful to their own thoughts. Liquid networks are especially important for technology companies. Jack Dorsey and his company Square were discussed in the blog “Technology’s Assault on the Way Things Used to Be” from last week. Dorsey is a co-founder of Twitter and is the CEO of his company, yet he does not have a an office or a desk of his own. Instead, Dorsey walks around the office space talking to his employees about their work. He describes his office as “a common workspace.” The policy encourages people to share and innovate, rather than work individually on their own problems.

While Johnson highlighted the English coffee shop as a center of innovation, I think that the modern coffee shop is the Internet. Unlike a coffee shop, the Internet is not limited by geography. People from all over the world are connected through websites, online forums and chat rooms, and blogs. Thomas Friedman described the IT platform as making the world flat. Thoughts from individuals around the world can be shared and merged to form new ideas through this technology. English coffee shops were essential to the beginning of the Enlightenment. The Internet has already drastically changed the world. It is amazing to think about the possibilities of what the Internet can do for the world in the future.

internet traffic map

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5 thoughts on “Innovation, the Internet, and Coffee Shops

  1. This blog has a very interesting and original topic, as it takes a look at how social interactions inside coffee shops helped lead to innovation. I really enjoyed the Ted Talks video, as it added strength and interest to this topic. I also thought your citation of a classmate’s blog was a nice way to build upon what some other members of class had to say and bolsters the intent of these blogs, discussion. My suggestion for improvement would be to draw a stronger and more precise connection to what we talk about in class. The connection you made to class discussion was smart, as you link it to the IT platform, but you make this connection a little vaguely and briefly at the very end of your post. I found myself wanting you to say more.

  2. I really liked your title, as it seemed to mention three very different things, and I wanted to learn more about how you would connect them. It drew me in. It is interesting how much of an impact an environment can have on the productivity of a person/organization/etc. For example, the connection between Twitter’s “workspace” office format and the in-and-out flow of a coffee shop was a good analogy because both spaces have obviously been conducive to grand ideas. Similarly, I know I always feel like I had a great study session for a final after spending the day in the Cleveland Circle Starbucks! This goes to show how vital the aspect of universal accessibility is for the internet; just as anyone can walk in or out of a coffee shop, we have learned in this class and through other classmates’ blog posts that the internet is becoming more and more of a public and un-privatized environment which has been a reason for its success.

  3. I really liked how this blog draws a connection two seemingly opposite subjects. I had never considered a coffee shop to be a center for innovation before. I agree with your idea that the internet has become the new center of innovation. Like you said, with the use of social media, blogs, and online forums people are able to share an immense amount of ideas across the geographical lines that have limited innovation in the past. I also don’t think its is coincidental that coffee shops are a place that many people, who cant afford private internet, rely on to get internet access. In a subtle way, coffee shops are still a home for innovation today. I also liked how you drew the connection between the traditional open set up of the coffee shop to the new innovative open workplace we are seeing succeed today. I agree with Katie when she said, that it is amazing “how much of an impact an environment can have on the productivity of a person/organization/etc.” Overall, I think you had a great blog that capitalized on the key points of a very interesting TED talk. I think you accented your writing well with the embedded video and graphic at the end.

  4. Interesting topic. Nice use of the TedTalk video, I always love those. Your idea about the IT platform is an interesting one, and as some of your class mades mentioned you made an nice connection between coffee shops and the modernity of the internet. However, I would be interested to see what class ideas you could connect this back to? Do you think that the workspace environment Twitter fosters is the way all work environments should be in order to spur innovation? Your topic is an interesting one, but some more specifics would be interesting as well.

  5. I think this is a very interesting article as well as a clever way to use the resources around you and applying them. More importantly I like how you analyzed the source and gave your own opinion on this possibly outdated concept. I agree with you that the internet is the breeding ground for innovation during this era. The internet provides people with mass amounts of information as well as so many more opportunities to do so many more things. It also allows more people to communicate with each other, simulating the English Coffee Houses where people would gather to discuss.

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