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Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Real estate for the price of coffee

San Francisco's modern-day bedouins are typically armed with laptops and cell phones, paying for their office space and Internet access by buying coffee and muffins.

A new breed of worker, fueled by caffeine and using the tools of modern technology, is flourishing in the coffeehouses of San Francisco. Roaming from cafe to cafe and borrowing a name from the nomadic Arabs who wandered freely in the desert, they've come to be known as "bedouins." [ed: the term appears in a 2006 Charter Street post, which is also a nice meditation on the benefits of "going Bedouin"]

The move toward mobile self employment is also part of what author Daniel Pink identified when he wrote "Free Agent Nation" in 2001.

Pink calls it "Karl Marx's revenge, where individuals own the means of production. And they can take the means of production and hop from coffee shop to coffee shop."

If you could split the Web workers into two main camps, you could say that one camp plugs in at Starbucks, while the other chooses independent neighborhood cafes. The two have vastly different ethics.

Starbucks offers a more corporate culture, and is a popular place for business meetings. Executives who travel a lot often prefer Starbucks, knowing they can find many branches in whatever city they go to. They also pay for the Wi-Fi, through Starbucks' partnership with T-Mobile.

Yet many of the scrappier startups, particularly those who have not taken funding from venture capitalists, prefer the ethos of the independent cafes, where the music is a little louder and the Wi-Fi is free.

May be, throwback of sorts. Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote some of their best work in Parisian cafes. And in San Francisco, writers and poets of the Beat generation, such as Jack Kerouac and Lawrence Ferlinghetti, wrote in the cafes of North Beach.

Fixed loyalty to corporations is morphing into a new independent model of working. In a free-agent world, people serve their work ideals and personal needs, rather than a specific company. Without oversimplifying the so-called demise of loyalty, we can see a mutually informed contract between those with talent and those with opportunities for work, a contract that balances collective and individual interests. Free agency hawks itself by spelling out its perks, giving tips on how to juggle the challenges, and promoting it as a path more respectful of the family, as well as the human spirit.

You can read the full article at SF Chronicle here. [ Hat Tip : Ben Casnocha ]

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