Not sure that the third space metaphor works with the 17th C coffeehouse because the distinction between the two spheres of home and work were not as marked in the same way as they are today. People would work in their homes, live with their workmates, socialize on the street, or in church graveyards, or in pubs etc.

Why does this matter? The coffeehouse wasn't distinctive because it offered a unique place outside of work and home. There were lots of weird social spaces outside of the work and home. But it was special. Why?

We can identify a few things that were new about the London coffeehouse:

1) Drugs. The most obvious was that the coffeehouse served coffee, and people hanging out drinking coffee talk about different things in different ways than people hanging out drinking wine. This was explicitly commented on at the time. Hey, one over caffeinated letter writer said, we used to hang out in the tavern and drink beer and we'd only be able to talk for an hour before we'd get silly. Now we can drink coffee and stay up ALL NIGHT LONG. And this shouldn't be discounted at all.

2) Diversity. Because the coffeehouse was new and people didn't know what to make of it, it attracted a wide variety of people--of men, usually--of different backgrounds and interests who used the coffeehouse for different purposes. At Garraways, you could have an argument about politics, get drunk, or watch the dissection of a dolphin. All in the same place. This was really important, especially at a time when politics and creed were incredibly marked and often led to bloodshed--remember the first coffeehouses started during a period of intense civil war and social dislocation.

3) Information. This is the Penny University aspect. The coffeehouse was often an information clearinghouse. It had newspapers, was a place to send and receive mail, to talk gossip. Over time these solidified: there were places where the maritime insurance people hung out at and these became e.g. Lloyds of London.

Finally. When we're trying to unspool what made the coffeehouse important, we also have to deal with another factor: it declined. Nobody knows when exactly--maybe in the 1720s? and nobody knows why.

But it probably has to do with the fact that these three new social aspects were somewhat at odds. The diversity of the coffeehouse was incredibly productive, but it was also uncomfortable. People would get into fights, they would misunderstand each other, they would talk about topics they shouldn't. Also, over time, coffeehouses started to specialize more and more--so that patrons could get more specialized information. They specialized so much that many became semi-private--like Lloyd's. And slowly the nexus of social energy shifted from public coffeehouse to private club. Specialization shoved out diversity.

What made the coffeehouse wonderful, then, was that for a brief time--like the great parts of the internet--it was a place that was weird and deep at the same time.

Would love to talk more if this is interesting. Wrote my MA on the coffeehouse and my Ph.D. on the Club. Now at MBB doing the consulting thing.

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What a fantastic article, thank you!

You're right: ceteris paribus is a clinical trial to tease out specific influences and relationships. It's not the real world. The assumption that it will carry over perfectly from artificial model environment to messy reality is bizarre.

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