I’m late, I’m late, for a very important Ziferblat


‘Ziferblat: everything is free inside; except for the time you spend’

This “treehouse for grown ups” is the brainchild of Russian poets, the habitat of Shepherd Bush hipsters and the inspiration for this zifferblog. A cafe where the coffee is free, the cakes are free, and nursing your small tap water is strongly encouraged. You serve yourself and help yourself, all the while aware of the minutes mounting up.

When you arrive you check in. When you check out, you spend 6p for every minute you were there.

At Liverpool’s Albert Dock I was intrigued, but found it hard to make sense of the experience.

Ziferblat’s literature claims, “Each guest becomes a micro tenant of the space…” Ziferblat gets its tart ironic zing from the society it both satirises and sates.

In contemporary society we have a complex relationship with land and space. The phrase ‘digital crofter’ is a good example. Someone can be a digital professional in the sticks because location is not important, but wants to get away from it all because location IS important. Working from home, on the move, here and there, makes land both less and more valuable. We are wireless wanderers who root ourselves around hubs. We are free to run to the hills! But those hills are probably owned by somebody. So much land is in the hands of so few, locking many people out of safe and secure environments to live. The movement ‘Occupy’ was about literally occupying land, in the name of the marginalised.

See Our Land.

We know we can be transient. And we know we often have to be. Houses are fairly cheap to build but the price of land continues going up and up and so the cost of houses keeps going up and up. This creates unstable bubbles and unequal distribution of wealth. While people struggle to find shelter, new infrastructure benefits landowners by proxy, even if they do nothing to improve their land and so the lives of others.

We have an uneasy, often ambivalent relationship with land. We are empowered in our ability to inform and stimulate ourselves, taking advantage of every bus stop, post office queue, and awkward lift ride to check what’s trending, what’s breaking, to nudge our highscore and one another. This can equip us to tackle an uncertain world of concentrated wealth and influence, and it also insulates us from it.

In this society where we can easily access vast libraries of information and yet struggle to shelter ourselves comes Ziferblat. We are all streamers now, and Ziferblat allows us to stream our coffee going experience. Instead of paying for each item, we pay for access. We can binge on a series of coffees as we would a series of episodes. There is no penalty for over indulgence (or at least no financial penalty). The enthusiast, who likes to consume back to back can do so. Ziferblat chimes with our digital modes of consumption.

Yet Ziferblat is not just somewhere to indulge and get away from the troubles of the real world. It makes us tenants of actual land. Indulged by our paternal, hipster overlords in their oversized frames (…glasses that is). They offer us protection from the outside world, while we serfs surf and munch and tend to our various social networks. If traditional social media is 1984, than Ziferblat is 1384. We are not constrained by some of the anxieties of the contemporary coffee shop experience. But there is the dread. The dread of a peasant on the land, that knows there’s no such thing as a free lunch. And we’re still peasants as far as John Lennon would see it (couldn’t post about an Albert Dock experience and not reference a Beatle somehow).

But it’s not all existentialism. They have a toaster. And breakfast cereals. And free cake! Ziferblat suggests it is somewhere you could hold a meeting or a workshop. I imagine a short focused time, with several people is the way to blat zifer. Sitting on one’s own, sipping one’s coffee, checking the time… the pressure…the discomfort…

But maybe that’s what Ziferblat is trying to tell us: Time IS money – think about how you’re spending it. The place of limitless consumption allows us to think beyond consumption, to seeing ourselves as something more than consumers, as people, who… are.

Maybe £1.80 spent doing nothing, consuming nothing, for half an hour, would be illuminating. An ascetic act for our age. Maybe it’s an urban liturgy, a rite, a cleansing. Perhaps Ziferblat is not satirising or sating our bread and circuses (read: pannini and Netflix) society. It could be giving us a means of seeing past it. I seem to remember at university reading Slavoj Zizek discussing hedonist Marxism and consuming our way out of consumption, to the point where we see how meaningless it is.

So let’s pow wow. At 6p a minute. And see if we start to reassess time; our space within it; and move past seeing time as bandwidth for consumption. Climate logic tells us we have to consume differently to sustain our place on the planet. We can change up how we consume. Maybe we’ll finally consume enough. But perhaps the wiley foxes and sly coyotes would find a way to keep changing the goal posts, so that we can’t consume our way out of consumption.

Perhaps we need to encourage, engage and enact more. Acts of service, assembling – being together. Realising the cost of time could show us the value of time and help us better repurpose it.

Ziferblat asks us to think about how we spend our time.

Thanks for spending your time on this article.

It cost you 24p.


One comment

  1. Really thought-provoking. Well done.

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