Reading, Starbucks and imbrication

Lorcan 2 min read

Jim has a very interesting account of a discussion at an AAAS panel about the future of the book, publishing and libraries over at HangingToghether. (It was part of a symposium on Information technology and the public good.)
One note jumped out at me. He quotes Dan Clancy, of Google,

“Starbucks succeeded because it provided a place for digital reading.” – Dan Clancy

I have returned to Starbucks several times in these pages, beginning here some time ago ..

It seems to me that the role of the coffee house, and it must be said, Starbucks in particular given its reach, in the contemporary urban setting is becoming clearer. Starbucks provides time-place alignment in busy, moving lives: in other words it provides ‘on-demand place’. It provides a place which is convenient at the time that it is required. This may be for downtime (a place to spend time relaxing), connect-time (a place to spend time connecting to the network), rendezvous time (a place to spend time with others), work-time (a place to spend time working). A colleague recently described Starbucks to me as his mobile office when he was on the road. It is not unusual to see job interviews take place there. [Lorcan Dempsey’s weblog]

I take Dan’s comment as a very small example of what Saskia Sassen is talking about when she talks about the embeddedness of the digital in physical, social and institutional contexts.

I use the term imbrication to capture this simultaneous interdependence and specificity of each the digital and the nondigital. They work on each other but they do not produce hybridity. Each maintains its distinct irreducible character. [Saskia Sassen. Territory, authority, rights. p.345]

Update: Sassen’s canvas is a large one, looking at changing contexts of the nation state and globalization. So my connection here is a little contrived. But I was struck by the quote above in the overall flow of her argument here: that digital activity depends on material supports. We do not have purely digital corporations or experiences. So, large financial centres in major cities are the hubs for the digital flows of financial markets. Google and other Internet hubs are creating a massive physical footprint to support their digital presence. Coffee-shops are connection points. And libraries are thinking about reconfiguring their space to adapt to the digital lives of their users. Thinking about more social space to support the ad hoc rendezvous or group work of mobile communicators. Thinking about access to specialist advice or equipment. Thinking about materials ‘to go’ on portable devices and storage. Thinking about connectivity.
Our physical and digital libraries are increasingly imbricated.

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