Allow me to apologize for the radio silence, it’s been hectic with all the moving and the building at Quietly Coffee! I sat down several times to write only to have the update become out-of-date days later. So I am going to keep it simple here and give a brief update, talk about the internet, and then ask some technology-oriented questions that have been nagging me through this whole process.
I am no longer in the Toronto box fort. I am now in the Frankford box fort. I have not moved in about three years and it’s been over a decade since I moved long distance, so it has been a big change but I’m happy to report that I am settling in to rural life. I have been chopping wood for the stove, battling mice with my cats, exploring the wilds behind the house with my wife, and going full pastoral indulgence by reading Leaves of Grass in the mornings with coffee.
The new Probat Roaster finally arrived and it’s glorious. Its journey was filled with peril mostly in the form of delays and culminating in a forklift trapped in the snow. I have an amazing HVAC team who has done the electrical and gas, just leaving the venting before start-up. Last word from them was that we will fire up Tuesday! After much tasting, pondering, and research, the first menu is set with stunners from some amazing farmers and cooperatives (if you are a cafe or shop and want on the offer list, let me know). Our packaging design is complete. The last couple steps involve finding the right manufacturing partners and a temporary bag solution until they arrive.
One of the most interesting things about moving out here was going offline. The country house we are renting is about a ten-minute drive from the roaster and the rural road it sits on does not quite align to the information superhighway. After several calls and visits from satellite companies, we now have a fixed wireless connection that seems to be decent. While initially life without the internet hit me with a pang of panic, I decided to embrace it and – do what I do so rarely – log off. It was equal parts profound and banal.
I say it was banal because nothing really changed. We finished more tasks, filling the days with cleaning, unpacking, organizing, and arranging. Our ‘to-do lists’ shrank at a swift pace and we were perpetually in bed early. Did I miss some dank memes, lovely Instagram posts, and the minutiae of real time news? The answer is yes. However, there was no revelatory freedomnor new found peace. Did I have more energy because I was not pouring my attention into my phone? Yet another big yes.
This is the profound part because I seldom note the extent to which social media drains me. Through the pulls of amusement and boredom, there is a perpetual siphon. Always being online means saturation and erasure of this slow leak. It was jolting to once again enter the stream and really see how it can make me feel like an imposter, as though I am lacking in some way, or just somehow out-of-step.
This is likely relatable and far from revelatory but I bring it up because it has me thinking about technology and coffee in much larger way. One especially useful writer during my dissertation was Lelia Green. She argues technology is never neutral because society is never neutral. It originates through specific interest groups (military, eduction, corporations, etc) and, accordingly, will always be designed for specific members or exclusive user bases. Technology thus reflects a culture’s social inequalities and relationships of power.
We can easily see this in coffee. Take the pod brewing machine for example. It is easy to shame those who use them as enemies of the environment but such design only works in a culture that readily accepts wastefulness. Pods require an embedded belief that puts convenience above environmental impact. If we look at the ongoing evolution of espresso machines, improvement and change typically surround water pressure, heating elements, or aesthetics. It is rarely about the ergonomics of workers and bodies in a space, which makes sense given the basic design carries over from the late 1800s when burning workers was of little concern. In this way, ‘innovation’ appeals to those who own cafes by offering consistency or speed. A reflection of a culture that seldom focuses on the nature and wellbeing of its labour force.
For Leila Green, looking to technology to solve problems is a mistake. Without addressing root cultural inequalities, technology will continually operate in exclusionary ways. Its relatable as my time offline did not change my life. However what I did realize is that my problem with social media is not the individual platforms but rather the way we exist in a hyper competitive industry and the culture gets cast back through the feed. To really open the possibilities for the cup, we need to look beyond improving tools and consider how our culture informs design, technology and our cafe spaces. I take it as a good lesson at the start of Quietly, not to just log off more but to think about how our industry favours a specific ‘user base’and real innovation will always be about erasing inequality.
Trust the Process,