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Vancouver café promises, or rather forces, an escape from connectivity

Steve Frost sits inside a box that blocks wireless signals at the Faraday Cafe, a pop-up on Columbia Street in Chinatown.

DARRYL DYCK/THE GLOBE AND MAIL

The cage in the centre of the Faraday Cafe in Chinatown isn't designed to keep something from getting out, but rather, to keep something from getting in.

That would be the electrical signals that link cellphones, smart phones and laptops to the rest of the world.

On Thursday, the café opened its doors as part of a fleeting effort to spur people to unplug from the grid and find a kind of detached tranquillity in a space without the distractions of wireless technology.

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The goal hinges on the cage, a frame of wood with an aluminum metal mesh designed to keep out signals – echoing the function of an actual Faraday cage, which is used in labs to shield people or things from static and non-static electric fields. Inside the café's cage is a picnic table that could seat about 16 people.

On Thursday, artist and writer Steve Frost was giving it a try. He sat happily in the cage reading The Globe and Mail – his pursuit of tranquillity fractured only by TV camera crews and a print reporter, who peppered him with questions about the experience.

He said he likes the idea of disconnecting and unplugging – something his artists collective has tried in 24-hour slices to bolster their creativity. But he said the cage is better because there is no choice.

"It's sad, but also reality that it has come to this," Mr. Frost, 51, said of retreating into the cage to disconnect.

The café will only be operating until July 16 in the pop-up space provided by the storefront where it's located. Until then, proprietor Julien Thomas is hoping to take cage occupants back to a time before they were connected.

"There was life before the Internet," said the construction worker and artist who collaborated with an architectural firm, which covered the $2,500 cost to rent the space and set up the operation.

As with many things in Vancouver, coffee is part of the equation. Mr. Thomas has acquired high-quality coffee and equipment to prepare it to help along the experience of reflecting on our attachment to technology. "I think our coffee is just going to get better," he said.

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Coffee sales, said Mr. Thomas, will cover his rent as he works on the project – a personal prelude to going to Amsterdam to do a masters in fine arts at the Sandberg Institute. He quit his construction job to focus on the Faraday initiative. "This is way more fun," he said.

Smart phones, Mr. Thomas said, mean people can cede memory to their devices. There's no need to remember phone numbers, geography or definitions. "We have given up that responsibility to remember things that are important," he said. "I like it when we can shut down one of our senses because it makes other senses more acute. We need that sometimes. If you're attached to your phone, you are not as responsible as you once were for certain things."

Mr. Frost said he knows he will eventually have to, himself, find the tranquillity the café now offers. One option, he said, would be to occasionally recreate the cage elsewhere. Other options? "Maybe I'll go down to the beach more often," he said.

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About the Author
B.C. reporter

Ian Bailey is a Vancouver-based reporter for The Globe and Mail.  He covers politics and general news. Prior to arriving at The Globe and Mail, he reported from Toronto and St. John’s for The Canadian Press.  He has also covered British Columbia for CP, The National Post and The Province. More

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