At four forty five p.m. on a Monday, Eastern Cafe is packed. Not every Monday, but the day in question the place is swarmed. I’m there to get some pre-work coffee and do some quick computing. I just need to use my laptop for a handful of minutes to reply to some e-mails and double check some scheduling issues that were thrown off by the snow. These things are better done on an actual computer than a phone, where accuracy can be thrown off by autocorrect, typing in transit, or simply clumsy thumbs.
While Eastern IS crowded it isn’t just the number of people– it’s the spaces they’re taking up. I’m in need of one spot where I can sit with my laptop. This should logically be one person/computer/chair worth of space. There are a few spaces available– or at least, there should be. But the techspreaders have taken up all the real estate in the coffee shop and I have to go to work frustrated, and feeling unproductive.
What is techspreading? It’s what it sounds like. You’ve heard of manspreading, yeah?
Where a guy obliviously sits with his legs asplay, taking up more space than necessary to the inconvenience of those around him. Techspreading is when one does that, but with their technology and it’s accessories, taking up more space in the coffee shop, bar, co-working office, or other public space than necessary, to the inconvenience of others.
I did a google search, as far as I can tell “techspreading” is not already a term. Well bam. It is now.
Eastern Cafe has a large wooden community table in the middle of its ground floor. It seats roughly twelve, and disparate parties often congregate at one end or the other. Along one wall there is a long bench with five small tables that can seat two people with their laptops. It is a space built with work in mind, a spot where regulars frequently park with their laptops, their sketchpads, their stacks of school books. Study groups, activists, and city planners rub elbows as pretty much every type of music ever recorded is liable to waft overhead.
The day of my frustration, there was a guy sitting at the community table working on his laptop. On the stool next to him he had his bag and coat. On the table next to his laptop, in front of another open stool, he had set his phone and coffee, effectively taking up three spots for the price of one. Another person had angled her stool and laptop so as to take up a spot and a half, still another had a stack of books, his headphones, and a laptop case next to his laptop, and his coat saving the spot occupied by his stack of stuff.
If, like me, you do a lot of your work in public, you know that finding a spot where you feel comfortable camping out for a while is key. You tip the staff well and stay low maintenance, in return they don’t rush you out after forty five minutes. When these spots are slow, it’s totally fine to spread out! Just like when the bus is empty, go ahead and take up two or three seats.
But when everyone is trying to find a spot to sit and get their work done, your phone does not need it’s own spot at the table and your bag does not warrant a seat of its own. This is just one of many common courtesies we can extend to each other.
Techspreading: it’s a thing. Don’t be a person who does that thing.
Also published on Medium.