An Apple a Day

I am really puzzled by those whom I see beavering away on their laptops in coffee shops across the city –across the world for all I know. I suppose it is actually a hydra-headed quandary: where they do it; how they do it; but more to the point, why they do it. The act of being voluntarily immersed in a cauldron of noise while attempting to produce a meaningful result on the screen strikes me as similar to trying to remember a shopping list while being water-boarded. I had nothing but disdain for those who pretended to be productively engaged while a cup of steaming hot coffee sat just centimetres away from their Apples on noticeably rickety tables.

But now that I am retired and have had time to reflect on such weighty matters, I have begun to wonder if it was just envy that had led me to discard such ostentation as mere affectation. I decided to subject the practice to Scientific Scrutiny and set about designing a randomized single-blinded controlled experiment to establish once and for all, whether those nattily-dressed dandies in their expensive suits and overly-decorative ties could actually accomplishing anything worthwhile in Starbuck’s. I’m trying to remain neutral; I have no confirmation bias worth mentioning, I don’t think…

I am, by all accounts, though, a one-burner chef, and I suspect congenitally maladapted to multi-tasking anything more complicated than eating in front of the television set. Sequentiality, not omniality –assuming that is actually a word- has defined my existence, but retirement is a time for change and renewal. A time to discover the potential stored away after a life of presumed productivity. A time to prove I was right all along…

First, the experimental design. I pretend to write short stories, so the Control part was easy: write different parts of the same story both in the quiet of my den at home, and at Starbuck’s in the hubbub of the morning rush. I could sort of Blind it as well, by copying down the first sentence and putting either an S or and H beside it, then filing it away until I analyzed the data. And, Randomizing it was simple, of course –I don’t like the noise so I didn’t go out for coffee on anything like a regular basis. So, there you have it: Retirement Science in action.

I was really excited on my first day in Starbucks, and like buying a new collar and leash for the mandatory dog you are supposed to bring to be tied up outside, I’d polished up the outside of my MacBook Air so it gleamed in the overhead lights. I hoped it would make up for the lack of dog.

The tables in my local Starbucks are really small, however, and because the laptop occupied most of it, I wondered what to do with the coffee. I started out by putting it on the other side of the screen, but I soon discovered that this is a practice that is frowned upon. I would forget that it was there, and people walking by would keep tapping the computer to tell me it was about to fall off the edge. I ended up storing it in my lap between my legs. I really don’t know why they insist on putting those silly little holes in the lids.

My first day there was pandemonium. The high school is nearby and soon after I had scored a little table in the middle of the room, the Starbuck’s immediately filled with teenagers who had either escaped or had bribed the janitor to let them out for recess. And then the shopkeepers arrived, and the mothers taking their toddlers to preschool or obedience classes… It was all Brownian motion and crowd noise –Babel on a jet engine scale. Snippets of conversation surfaced and then submerged again in the gestalt. Screams, when they are relatively constant, despite the stochastic pitch and volume, are easier to ignore than words, and I noticed I was following different strands of people’s lives as they wove themselves in and out of the weft of comprehensibility. I found myself wondering why the woman standing in the line in front of my table, was still living with her husband, and how the teenager at the next table had actually made it home after the party on the weekend. I even sympathized with the mother at a nearby table who had forgotten the nappies for her crying, malodorous baby in her rush to discuss child care tips with her older, and presumably wiser mother-in-law. Sitting at my table was like treading water on somebody else’s Facebook page.

I attempted to get back to my experiment, but I felt as if I was imbedded in stucco; the words weren’t mine, nor were the ideas. I tried desperately to focus but it was like trying to follow raindrops in a storm, so I closed my laptop and stood up to leave. I had decided I would have to revise the study design somehow, but as I concentrated on just how, I felt a warm trickle in my lap and I realized that Science would be immeasurable enhanced if I tried it the next time without coffee. Potato chips would fit nicely on my thigh and maybe even help drown out the other noise as I chewed. Of course, I’d miss a lot…

 

 

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