I saw a commercial the other day that featured a family of four dispersed throughout their two-story house. There was a daughter upstairs on her phone. A son playing a video game on a tablet. The dad typing away on a computer. The mom sets the dinner table and–with this subtle, almost mischievous grin–clicks a button on her phone that shuts down the WiFi.
Everyone at first gives that, “Hey, what happened to the internet??” reaction; the same one we make with the questionable WiFi on an airplane. But this quickly shifts to a smile as they all realize that it’s dinner time. Good ol mom. It’s time to stay connected by being disconnected.
I assumed this was a commercial for Stouffer’s lasagna, or maybe we’ll see the little Pillsbury Doughboy unplugging the internet modem followed by a quick belly-poke and a hoo-hoo! But, to my surprise, this was actually for an internet company. Think about that, their big new feature was how to shutdown their own product. How powerful do you have to be to pull that off? That’d be like Pizza Hut showing you how to order from Domino’s or a Bud Lite commercial saying, “Hey, tonight you should really go with a rum and Coke.”
We need WiFi the way previous generations needed air and water. I heard a study that said the average American is getting 11 hours of screen time a day (what’s sad is I saw that and thought, “Eh, I might be even worse.”) Felix Gray launched an entire business to help protect people’s eyes from blue light. Certain companies are installing devices that shutdown the WiFi for their employees’ phones while they’re in the office. It’s like installing an electronic Terry Tate that tackles anyone who tries to Tweet.
Because of all of this internet dependence, we’re seeing a little bit of an unplugged renaissance. People are craving life with a little bit more airplane mode. I mean just look at how many ads you see now for Montana. Or how about the new phrase “JOMO” (Joy of Missing Out), which LinkedIn is telling me is a big new phrase, but my guess is the only time it’s actually been used is a parent telling their teenager, “Forget FOMO, I’ve got hashtag JOMO” and the kid immediately puts their palm to their face.
What I want to do is combine this feeling of being unplugged with another trend: people wanting to get rid of misinformation/fake news/click bait. And then lets throw in two more positives: community and alcohol. Combine those four together and you’ve got the hottest new bar in Chicago.
Here’s the idea. Next time you don’t know the answer to something, or there’s a tune in your head that you can’t quite place the name of the song, instead of immediately pulling out the phone to check with Google or humming the song to Alexa, you head on over to “Search Bar.” This bar has no WiFi and does not allow phones or computers to be present. The bartenders are either former librarians or have a PhD in some incredibly obscure field. There are shelves upon shelves of whiskey. One keg of PBR behind the bar. And tons and tons of books.
We need to rediscover what it means to learn something again. In a hilarious stand-up comedy bit, Pete Holmes talks about how because so we have an iPhone in our pocket, we have an instant answer for everything. There’s really no actual learning taking place. There’s no ah-ha moment.
“The time between not knowing and knowing is so brief, that KNOWING feels exactly like NOT KNOWING,” Pete Holmes explains. “So life is meaningless.”
He then explains how we used to get information.
“There was a time when if you didn’t know where Tom Petty was from you just. didn’t. know. And you felt that yearning, and that deficit in your being. And you’d go around and ask actual people.”
That yearning, that Boxcar Children feeling of adventure trying to find an answer, that’s what Search Bar is all about. And yeah, sure, Google is faster, but there’s something about the chase. There’s a reason it’s more fun to play trivia with friends than just asking, “Ok, Google.”
And, speaking of trivia, think about it, what’s the most popular night at bars during the week? Trivia Night. And here at Search Bar it’s essentially Trivia Night every single day.
Will the answers in Search Bar always be right? Maybe. Maybe not. There might be a flat earth guy in there one night making one hell of an argument to the point where I’m like, “Wait, maybe the earth isn’t round? Did we even land on the moon? Wait, what am I saying??” But people will argue this out, because that’s what Search Bar is all about. Make your case. Free speech. The bartender/librarian recommends a book to you and you go home feeling like you were just in an 1890’s saloon.
The whole concept of Search Bar is incredibly hipster friendly, which immediately drives up the Yelp score to that hallowed 4 1/2 star mark. See you never want to hit 5 stars, because people see that and think either 1) there’s only been one review and that must be from the owner’s mom or 2) it’s kind of a dictatorship situation where the 1-star reviewers are quietly being eliminated.
It’s essential to have the hipster vote early on in the start-up cycle. The hipsters build that underground momentum. It’s true for start-ups, taco joints, bands, and even entire neighborhoods. Once that momentum is rolling, there’s always a trendy newspaper guy or Buzzfeed gal that prides themselves on being plugged into the hipster scene. The place then gets featured in a “Ten coolest bars in Chicago that you like haven’t heard of yet” article.
Now the secret’s out and the “cool” or mainstream crowd starts showing up. And the original fans of Search Bar start to slowly walk out claiming the bar “isn’t what it used to be” or that it “sold out.” This hurts, sure, but it’s part of the life cycle. It’s how the local coffee shop grows into a Starbucks. Now the prices at Search Bar go from “Put a vintage $2 bill on the counter and you drink for free from the PBR keg the rest of the night” to charging $10-15 a drink. The WiFi is still disabled but the message going around the internet is less about coming in here to seek answers as it is, “I heard they don’t allow WiFi because celebrities come here and don’t want to be on people’s Instagram or Snaps. This place is so cool.”
And at that point, you sell it or franchise out. You can always start another one because we all know Google and Alexa aren’t going anywhere any time soon. You can call the next one, “Ok Whiskey” or “Hey Alcohol.” Restart the cycle.
As always, this idea is completely yours for the taking. If it works, write me a check that seems fair. If it doesn’t, hey, who said it was my idea?
I’ll even give you a slogan to start with: Tonight, skip the internet search bar and come on over to Search Bar. Location TBD.
Normally, these “Please, Take this Idea” posts go up as the last post of the month, but I got a little sidetracked in the “Embarrassment is the Emotional Terrorist” series. Other installments of the series include:
I’ll be back every Monday in August and then September I’ll be taking the month off to recharge the batteries. You can subscribe to the blog for regular Medium Rare posts by entering your email in this box below.
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