The Coffee-Office: Urban Soundscapes for Creative Productivity
Keywords: sound studies, mobile listening, architecture, productivity, labor, soundscapes
AbstractI first encountered the term ‘coffice’ or coffee-office in a tweet: a fitting beginning to a hipster portmanteau that references an ever-popular urban labour practice – working in a coffee shop. The tweet also referenced the notion of ‘coffitivity’ or the kind of productivity one derives not only from the stimulation of the coffee drink itself but also from the chaotic, communal, semi-public space of the urban café. Coffitivity is also an app: a service that delivers the coffee shop ambience to your personal headphones, whether you are at home, school, or anywhere you happen to work. The app combines a selection of trademarked coffee shop ambiences with your chosen music tracks, promising to “boost your creativity and help you work better”. In this short piece I bring some of the relevant literature together that constructs the café as an urban soundscape of productivity (and one that finds itself memorialized into an app), as well as draw links to the tradition of acoustic ecology as a paradigm for making sense of this particular trope of urban sonic environment. Finally I nuance the notion of tools in research by comparing stereo versus binaural recordings of coffee shops in my own ethnographic work, hoping for this outline to serve as a unique model for approaching the increasingly mediated nature of urban labour practices.