I recently finished reading Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell and once again find myself challenged by his ideas about the causes of social epidemics. Essentially he explores the conditions necessary for new waves of social, business and other behavior to become epidemic in society. What is it that causes the rapid sales of gadgets, growth in a particular drug use, or maybe the epidemic of tattooing or body piercing? His thesis is that epidemics in the most general sense are the product of peoples behavior as mavens, connectors and salesmen. Mavens are the ones who keep up with the latest events, products and ideas. Connectors are the widely connected individuals who have so many folks in their network that when they adopt or talk about a new trend, literally their ideas go viral in society. Salesmen are the people who are the enthusiasts that hype the rest of us.
Today I read about a new trend for coffee shops to eliminate Wi-Fi access. Apparently some coffee shop venues have determined that Wi-Fi is detrimental to their businesses. People camp out for hours nursing a single cup of coffee while occupying valuable space and consuming free power for their laptops. Is this the beginning a new social/business epidemic? I wonder when we will reach the tipping point where most of the coffee houses have eliminated free Wi-Fi access? For me the idea of reaching a tipping point is analogous to activation energy in a chemical reaction. A chemical reaction needs a certain level of activation energy to cause a cascade of reaction to completion. Therefore, I will be watching the Wi-Fi access scene in coffee houses to see if enough coffee shops turn off Wi-Fi to precipitate most of the coffee shops eliminating the service.