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.