Sunday, September 9, 2012

Why the noise?

I am a single person and--due to an upbringing starved of physical affection or praise interacting with unfortunate adult experiences (the former making the latter both more likely and more likely to be of a traumatic nature)--am likely to remain so. I also like cafes, perhaps more than I should, given my low income. (Yes, I am an employer who is also on a low income; more common than folk might imagine.)

So, when I go to a cafe, I often read and/or write. For a while, that meant taking along my laptop; now it means my iPad. (Which has a rather nifty keyboard connected by Bluetooth; I love the sheer inventiveness of the modern world.) Between Kindle for MaciBook and ReaddleDocs, I have lots of books, pdfs and other documents to read on said iPad. (Dropbox is a wonderful thing; as is Baen Books.) I also often take notes during my reading.

Hence, it is more than a little irritating when waiting staff interrupt to ask you if you want something. It is bad enough when you are reading, but if you are typing away, you really don't want to have your train of though interrupted or, worse, derailed. It is not as if I linger; I rarely spend much time after having consumed what I have ordered and, if I do, it will only be when there are clearly spare tables available. If I want something, I will attract attention. If I am typing away, or reading, I do not want to be interrupted by unnecessary interrogation.

That is, however, an occasional irritation. What is more omnipresent is the apparent requirement to have music playing in the background; often quite loud and with an intrusive beat.

Either people are at cafes with friends, and wish to talk. Or, like I usually am, they are on their own and wish to read or write. Either way, music is likely to get in the way if its loud or otherwise intrusive. Yet, that is often precisely what cafes inflict on paying customers.

It is not as if I dislike music. In the car, I listen to Joy FM in part because I (generally) like the music thereon. But silence, or the gentle hum of voices, can be refreshing too.

This was really brought home to me just recently. I have taken to sometimes patronising a new cafe in Yarraville which has a nice range of teas (I don't drink coffee, I find it stops me sleeping). Its name and tone invokes Eastern mindfulness.

So, there I was, with my peppermint green tea, typing away and the proprietor interrupts my typing to ask if I want anything. To which the answer was no. (I always answer politely; perhaps that is a mistake.) She then puts on music--the quiet had been particularly pleasant--a loud, bouncy pop song. This was not mindful nor encouragement to the same.

I realise that the modern world treats loud as a virtue music should aspire to. Having heard plenty of live music which was perfectly fine without any electronic sound enhancement (speakers and amplifiers do not invoke the right atmosphere at a medieval feast), making music loud because you can does not impress me.

Being loud may have some ritualised group effect when the music itself is the draw. But where it is supposed to be an additive enrichment of the overall service, then having it be intrusive is not a positive. Background music is supposed to be precisely that.

Trouble is, background music is sufficiently subordinate to issues of convenience, quality and price that it is not likely to affect decisions to patronise a cafe on its own. So, there is little selective pressure to weed out the noise.