I've probably remarked before about the absurdity of people attending conferences and spending every break time hunched over laptops or iPhones communicating with everyone on earth except other delegates. Another arena that is turning silent seems to be the cafe. The wave of coffee shops like Starbucks that sprung up all over the world in the nineties rode on the combination of good coffee and free wireless net access. One side effect of this is that many guests buy their mug of coffee, set up office at a table and sit there for hours. The result is that in some places you hear not the buzz of animated conversation but the gentle clicking of laptop keyboards.
An article in yesterday's New York Times, The new coffee bars: unplug, drink, go (plus a long string of comments) reveals new tactics from coffee bar owners to bring back conversation to the forefront of cafe life. Many are getting rid of the tables and chairs and getting customers to either stand at the bar or perch on bar stools. The idea is to concentrate on the coffee and the company. There's simply no space for the laptop.
Then again, what's the difference between customers burying themselves in a newspaper and using a laptop? Different cafes for different purposes is probably the moral of the story.