The Perfect Blend of Coffee and Conversation
By Noelle Darilek
A tall, black magnetic poetry post, Edison light bulbs dangling from the ceiling over a long wooden table, mismatched, plush chairs and sofas, a black and white mural of various celebrities, and a gallery wall featuring a selfie section, are just a few things you will find at The Factory, an Austin coffee shop, instead of WiFi or laptops.
While most Austin coffee shops are filled to the brim any day of the week with students and adults sitting behind laptops and phone screens, studying, working, or browsing through various social media channels, The Factory aims to set itself apart from the others.
Wallace Kusumo, co-owner of The Factory, sits in a bar chair under the Edison light bulbs wearing a blue and black checkered button up and rectangular black-rimmed glasses.
“We wanted to create a place to hang out from the beginning, really creating a place where you can forget about work or about your studies for a bit while you’re here,” Kusumo said. “I think The Factory is about hanging out and connecting with people, talking, socializing.”
Two months after opening in October, Kusumo and his wife and co-owner, Wendy Wu, decided to take it a step further. The couple added the rule of no laptops in December, becoming the first and only laptop-free coffee shop in Texas.
“The more people get into it, especially first timers, they kind of like it. It’s a really calming, tranquil and peaceful space,” said Kusumo.
Studies show that in today’s technology influenced world, people tend to suffer from what is called “communication overload.” One study done by Dr. Keri Stephens, Associate Professor in the Department of Communication Studies at The University of Texas at Austin, along with her team of graduates and undergraduates, noted the different elements of communication overload.
Communication overload consists of aspects such as the piling up of messages, being overwhelmed with information, having a lot of distractions, and feeling responsible to respond to someone. Stephens describes the term as having to do with the pressure people put on you, or that you think they put on you, to communicate with them and be available.
Stephens quoted one student from the study that said, “If I didn’t have technology, when I went home I could sit in peace instead of always being available.”
The study also noted that 76 percent of technology increased communication overload. Stephens said that when she meets with people the face-to-face conversation is most important. She doesn’t carry her phone with her or take calls.
Co-owner Wu said, “We see so many coffee shops these days dominated by computers and laptops when you just want to hang out with your group of friends or relax. When you look around you barely have anywhere to sit at a coffee shop.”
Looking to create a fun, social, and creative environment, The Factory was named after Andy Warhol’s New York City studio, “The Factory.” The café features plush chairs and couches positioned towards each other to encourage conversation instead of looking at screens.
“I think they definitely tried to make it an inviting environment instead of just setting it up as a place you can go sit and study,” said Isabel Mayne, a sophomore nursing major at the University of Texas and a regular at The Factory. “They want to make you feel comfortable and have fun.”
Mayne visits The Factory once a week on average. She leads a YoungLife group and says that The Factory is a great place to meet with girls one-on-one to get coffee and talk without any distractions.
Stephens notes the influence of cell phones on physical space, saying that if it’s there and you know that it’s there, you’ll look at it when you get a call or text message and it will ultimately impact your communication with that person.
Mayne talks about how social media and cell phones can play a large role in impacting her daily life. “I think that it’s really easily accessible, so it’s the first thing I turn to when I have five free minutes or when I get bored,” she said. “It’s easy to do something mindless and I think that’s what most people use it for too.”
When designing the coffee shop, Wu wanted to pick décor that people can talk and share ideas about, while also inspiring others with the space. A few pieces include a hidden bookcase door leading to the restrooms, two plush swings that hang from the ceiling, and several colorful art pieces featured on the walls.
“We don’t really want to label ourselves as a coffee shop, but as a hangout place where people have something to drink to enjoy themselves and at the same time have great food,” Wu said.
Half of Americans used at least one social media site in 2011 according to a Pew Research Center Report. Today, that number has risen to nearly 70 percent. The report also found that while young adults continue using social media sites at high volumes, in recent years, social media usage by older adults has also increased.
“I hate feeling the need to check my social networks and email on a regular basis,” said a student from Stephens communication overload research study. “With a constant stream of information, I feel unpleasant pressure to constantly check my networks for fear that I’ll miss something if I ignore the information.”
Due to problems like these, Wu notes that when The Factory first decided to implement the no laptop rule, there was resistance from some. “We want our customers to know the reason behind it. Most do understand and we have customers that come up and thank us that they have a place to hang out,” Wu said.
Stephens believes that today people look for excuses to disconnect from technology. If something, such as driving or being in class, provides an excuse to not be available, it might be a draw for people. She also says, “It’s not necessarily an age dependent thing. I see people at all ages that want an excuse to disconnect.”
While some Austin coffee shops may offer no WiFi after certain hours, The Factory began with absolutely no WiFi during all open hours.
“We are not necessarily creating a new concept of coffee shops,” Wu said. “We’re more bringing it back to the way it was before the Internet and when a coffee shop somehow became a study place versus a fun, chatting, social place.”
Video by Meredith Knight and Armando Maese