There’s nothing like people watching to reveal social trends and norms. It's clear how dependent we’ve become on mobile technology and caffeine. In cities, a veritable river of city workers wanders by in the morning transit hour, all clutching two essential items: a take-away coffee and a smart phone. Juggling devices against one ear, deep in conversation as well, many are oblivious to their surrounds and on automatic pilot to the office.
The trajectory of two cultures has some common themes, both being pretty much unavailable twenty-odd years’ ago but now omnipresent. We are hyper-connected and hyper-caffeinated. The bricks that were mobile phones were carted around like wheel-on cabin luggage, and a cappuccino was as frothy as an 80s wedding dress. At the beginning of Australia’s coffee culture, an individual drip-filter coffee cannister, as offered at one Pitt Street café, was an out-there innovation. These were the days when cafés still had ashtrays on the table and the term ‘barista’ was yet to hit the Australian lexicon - the only barristers we knew about were members of the legal profession. Faxes still reigned supreme in the business world, and pagers offered rapid communication, even if it was via a call centre to key in and despatch the message. Both gave us a mere glimpse of the communications technology that would change our world.
Before the ascendancy of Australia’s coffee and mobile device culture, good coffee was only to be had in a few city cafés, and mobiles were the domain of senior executives or weight-lifters. Just over twenty years’ ago, these were emerging cultural trends. In fact, it's even less than that, because when I had my first baby, and withdrew from the frenetic pace of working in the city to a new maternal lifestyle on the northern beaches, it was impossible to find coffee at Manly. In the next few years, cafés opened all over the place, al fresco dining – a revolution in local government trading – became de rigeur. And so did coffee, and mobile phones.
When I got my first smart phone, my son set it up for me, over coffee. Of course. The kids who were introduced to babycinos are also adept at social media, glued to their smart phones and ordering coffee before school from the mobile cart parked outside each morning. Like Pavlov’s dogs, office workers salivate and run when they hear the airhorn of the mobile coffee van, a routine that can be utterly interrupted if, for some extraordinary reason, she changes her usual schedule. They queue with device in hand, bereft if deprived of either.
Coffee and mobile devices have become social norms. It’s a cultural shift that has changed the way we think, connect, do business and socialise. Don't think rural and coastal Australia has been left behind. From sunrise to sunset, the thriving community hotspots are cafés. Casually strolling from sand to street, it's a central part of our beach lifestyle. There's a delicious irony in the term 'counter culture'. Because far from being removed from or opposed to the mainstream, counter culture pretty much defines who we are today.