I have a strange problem. I feel very guilty when I sit in a coffee shop, using their high speed Wifi, without buying anything. Growing up, I was always taught to buy something—water, a candy bar—from a gas station after using their bathroom. This polite gesture now nags at me as I write these words, sitting in a local coffee shop, writing and drinking water. But the problem becomes more complex when I add that I am on a diet and I’ve already had lunch. I would love to buy a sweet treat or a smoothie, but I don’t want the calories. I’d buy coffee, but I don’t drink it. Or tea. A year ago, I would have bought a glass of fountain Coke, but I’ve cut it out of my diet.
Much like a gas station bathroom, I am expected to buy something in exchange for sitting and writing in their establishment. It’s an unspoken pressure I feel every time, causing me to write at the local public library instead. But the library often has screaming kids that even my Sennheiser noise-cancelling headphones can’t block out. There is a din at the coffee shop, but it becomes a low white noise with my headphones on.
While I love supporting my local library, I prefer the environment of the coffee shop. Yet I can’t shake this nagging feeling. To be clear, if it was a Starbucks, I would not feel guilty. I have no moral problem ripping off a giant corporate company. But this shop is local and only one of two locations. It has a hipster aesthetic and good lighting. I can spread out at a table or sit in a leather chair by the fireplace. The bathrooms are clean. What’s not to love?
So that’s why I feel so guilty. I feel like I’m stealing from the owner. I’d be happy to tip the coffee shop a few dollars for a few hours of peace, but I don’t want to waste my calories on a food item I don’t want. This feels like the most #FirstWorldProblem situation I have ever been in, but it begs the question: Is there such a thing as free Wifi?