It has been decades since I experienced having no access to Wi-Fi. This was in Myanmar when I still worked for Frequent Traveller, a now-defunct business travel magazine published in Singapore. Internet was only available in hotels which was equivalent to having no Internet at all because by the time a website loads your bill would have looked like you spent hours on the computer. But I wasn’t really bothered by the absence of Internet. On hindsight, it was a welcomed respite from staying connected and from checking the phone for e-mails. Truth be told, I belong to the old school of communication – face-to-face was how I like interacting with people.
Nowadays, the mere thought of any venue having no Wi-Fi is just unthinkable. Indonesia is just as wired as Singapore down to their respective airports. America is a hit-and-miss; some places have and some don’t. As for Manila, I eschew using the Internet when I’m out for fear of hand phone snatchers roaming the malls. I do make an exception when I’m at cafes. Starbucks, my preferred coffee place, was a tad dark when I stepped into its Matalino Street outlet. Fortunately, Seattle’s was just next door which was brightly lit – it looked “happy” not brooding – but, to my surprise, was without Wi-Fi because of a cable problem, related the cashier. I took it for granted that by the time I returned the cable problem would have been fixed. After all, it is de rigueur to have Wi-Fi anywhere now much like it’s de rigueur for hotels to have buffets and free Internet.
Seattle’s seemed unfazed by the absence of Wi-Fi and so were its customers including me. As I watched the rain lash at the cars and the umbrellas moving to and fro within my vision, I noted the more relaxed atmosphere as people marched inside the cafe. When I was there for four hours, people came to have coffee or order coffee and food to-go. The customers were variegated, I noted, as I sipped my classic mocha and bite into my cinnamon roll. Two nuns held my gaze when they entered Seattle’s because I was flabbergasted at the thought of holy women chilling in a café. I noted an elderly woman changed from a dress into a shirt and trouser ensemble, and claimed a corner as her own with a newspaper. A young man came, armed to the gills with his gadgets, and parked parallel to my table; with his paraphernalia were all set up, he was fast asleep when I next peeped. A lone man came and sat at the back of the room to nurse his Americano. Two healthy cats walked up and down Seattle’s and its neighbour Kenny Roger’s. Two women and their children had a little reunion at one area. A couple came to have Seattle’s skillet meals of sausage and eggs mid-way to lunchtime, and the man almost left his hand phone on his chair which fell out of his trousers that people in the medical field wear. Gone was the busy din of a café that, I realised later on, agitated the coffee drinks. Seattle’s was quiet-busy with upbeat Christmas music playing on the loop overhead.
Conspicuously absent, and not to my chagrin, were the millennials strapped to their hand phones. There was this calming quiet enveloping the café. No one was taking selfies or photos except for me when I discreetly took shots of my orders for my blog. My thoughts just flew here and there as I spent the time organising the new sets of vocabulary for the new semester and discovering what was troubling the governess of Miles and Flora in Henry James’ “The Turn of the Screw”.
The feeling I had could be summed up in the Japanese word natsukashii: “of some small thing that brings one suddenly joyously back to fond memories not with a wistful longing for what’s part, but with an appreciation of the good times.” That small thing was definitely the lack of Wi-Fi which didn’t figure during my growing up years. That very thought was soothing because Wi-Fi was never a necessity like air or water. I survived school and first-time employment without Wi-Fi. My existence didn’t revolve around Wi-Fi; my high school friends and I knew what it meant to be in the experience and to enjoy it. I don’t deny that Wi-Fi has its advantages if we’re talking about work, but outside of work is a different story altogether. There is some goodness to solitude in a café with a book and a meal, say, herb omelette with French toast. It’s an experience these millennials should try.