Since I’ve been writing about new expressions for wwword, I’ve had the occasional flash of pride over our early investigations of coinages such as precariat (a contribution that came out before Guy Standing’s serious academic book on the subject) and humble brag, which has subsequently made dictionaries and headlines in New York magazine articles.
My ahead-of-the-trend smugness was crushed recently, however, when I started looking into this week’s new word, coffice, and discovered that what I thought was a charming discovery has been old news for at least a couple of years. So much so that several websites, and one, Brooklyn Based, in particular, have devoted pages not merely to the concept of coffices but to comparing and rating them. I suppose I shouldn’t really have been surprised—after all, the phenomenon of officeless freelancers and students in search of a fast internet connection and a decent latte is at least a decade old now. Yes, the coffice is the lovechild of the union between designer coffee and free wifi; it’s where you and your laptop or iPad do business, create pages, write papers or surf funny cat sites for the price of a cup of joe (or possibly several cups, depending on number of hours spent, niceness of staff and your guilt threshold).
Not at the coffice
Brooklyn Based’s coffice ratings are local, of course, but the principles they’re based on—atmosphere, internet speed and numbers of electrical outlets, quality of coffee—are universal. While I’ve lived in the beautiful borough of Brooklyn probably for more years than any of Brooklyn Based’s employees have been alive, I was slightly stunned to discover how many non-Starbucks coffee places it’s home to—and those are only the ones that made the site’s review pages. Unlike me, BB’s coffice expert, Jon Reiss, is clearly personally familiar with the cafés he reviews; recently he’s widened his coverage with a series of blog posts about coffice etiquette. The latest, which focuses on how many hours and how much money one should spend, seems to be a hotly disputed subject, with varying opinions even among staff at the same place. Then there are issues of tipping, busing tables, etc.—it’s a minefield!
Speaking as a lifelong procrastinator, I was mainly intrigued by Reiss’s view of the coffice as a regulator of freelancer behavior—a form of personal social engineering, if you will. The running subtext of his articles is the importance of getting out of the house; not so much for the larger and better selection of hot beverages (after all, coffee at home is presumably cheaper), more for the disciplinary effect of, ironically, being alone with your computer in a public place—as opposed to the situation of stay-at-home freelancers, who risk never getting out of bed or their pajamas, as well as being tempted to surf porn or other NSFW (“not safe for work”) internet sites that, presumably, coffice workers are likely to avoid for fear of being busted. “Nothing is worse,” says BB’s Reiss, lamenting the shortage of Brooklyn coffices open late at night, “than spending the entire day working yourself into the zone and hammering out the world’s best paper/story/project only to have to pack up and leave, winding up at home with more to write and your big, soft bed and sexy DVR waiting for you.” The implication being that once you get home, there’s no way you’ll keep going. Could this in fact be why people still come together to work in offices today—because if they stayed at home they’d never get anything done?—TAMARA GLENNY