What do literary tourists look for when they visit the British Isles? Often it’s the quaint, old-fashioned bookshops that provide the perfect excuse to browse uninterrupted and to disconnect from the world. Until recently, the trend for barista-made coffee and high-speed Wi-Fi was considered by some in the city’s bookish crowd to be ruining London’s centuries-old tradition of disconnected browsing.
But a crop of bookshops is rebelling against frenzied online engagement and is creating environments where the real-life, internet-free book browse is the most effective way to expand your social and professional networks. And in countering the internet overload, some stores are proving to be among London’s hottest hangouts.
Mr. Silva, who was spurred to open his shop after experiencing a common affliction for London’s bibliophiles — the repetitive, grating ring tones of smartphones disrupting the tranquility of his bookshop experience. “We wanted to get people using their human intuition when they shop for books. You can get Wi-Fi anywhere now, it’s not necessary in a bookshop.”
Their mantra has drawn a sophisticated, brainy crowd, but its premise is simple: In the digital age, the bookshop should be a refuge, an information overload in its own right. “If someone gets a phone call, they leave the shop. It’s the same with the internet — people just know this isn’t the space for being online.”
The distraction-free library ethos is actually a city tradition, from the private tranquil libraries of stately homes to the British Library’s Reading Room in King’s Cross — a place where the etiquette policy strongly discourages the presence of mobile phones entirely with tactfully placed signs. It’s in this tradition that these bookshops operate.
Mr. Silva said “an old-fashioned space” is clearly appealing to book lovers. He said his shop has had twice as many customers as anticipated, with visitors from as far afield as Australia and China. Confronted with a bookshelf curated by the popular new mayor or surrounded by first editions, who wants to download a morning full of emails?