The New York Times has an article about how our mobile technologies have made us increasingly dependent on seeking out electricity in places like cafes, restaurants, bookstores and even commuter trains. The author talks about how ettiquette rules have developed for the use of electrical outlets. I know I’ve been at Borders and seen people plugging in those big adapters so that numerous people can use one outlet (don’t they worry about starting a fire?), but I’ve also seen people who are absolute outlet hogs. What really surprises me is the fact that many people seem to think they can plug their stuff in anywhere they go. I know the electricity used isn’t that expensive, but still!
Like many managers of restaurants, cafes and practically anyplace people gather to work with and charge their electronics, Ms. Kalogeras noted that patrons seldom ask her for permission. “Once in a while people ask us if they can charge their phones,” she said. But some months ago at Amy Ruth’s, a Harlem breakfast spot, a diner was loudly admonished by a waitress for plugging his laptop into a wall outlet near where he was seated. “Who told you that you could do that?” she asked, sternly but rhetorically. “Somebody’s got to pay for that electricity.”
In Starbucks, Borders, and Barnes and Noble I can understand plugging in, because they do offer wifi and it should be expected that people will need to charge their computer batteries. But I really can’t imagine being at a restaurant without wifi and just thinking it’s ok to plug my stuff into a wall! I guess I’m just old fashioned or something.
Libraries should definitely be aware of people’s needs for power outlets (whether or not they offer wifi). I’ve written about this before, but since then, I’ve heard about a number of libraries who are excited about the possibility of offering wifi, but do not want to offer electricity to patrons. Bad idea. Offering patrons places to plug in could definitely attract more of the “wired generation” to the library, and maybe they’ll then find that the library has much more to offer than just electrity.