7 PM Happy Hour in the Smoky Drinky Bar

This morning I’ve been reviewing the events of the last few days, during which smokers have been meeting up in the Smoky Drinky Bar.

I’ve been reminded once again of one of the last occasions when smokers met up, at Stony Stratford, and comparing that occasion to this.  At Stony Stratford, Dick Puddlecote organised a protest against a proposed street smoking ban in the little town. Some 200 people arrived, mostly by car. I myself drove 150 miles to get there. We listened to speeches by Dick Puddlecote and Nigel Farage and maybe even the town mayor. And then, because we had met up in a pub, we all bought drinks and milled around chatting indoors and outdoors. And then after a few hours, little by little, all concerned climbed back into their cars and drove away. The town smoking ban was not enacted, and the councillor who had proposed it subsequently lost his seat.

As I saw it, smokers from all over Britain had come together briefly in a small army to fight a battle. Ever afterwards, I’ve dreamed of bringing together smokers from all over the world to build a huge (and invincible) army to defeat (and utterly annihilate) Tobacco Control.

Last Saturday, 17 June 2017, in the Smoky Drinky Bar, I took a small first step towards that goal. I managed to get 10 – 15 people from all over the world, in Britain, USA, Australia, and New Zealand, and elsewhere, to meet up and drink and smoke and talk just like we did in Stony Stratford, but in a virtual pub rather than a real one.

I think that it was technically a great success. We could all see and hear each other perfectly well. If there were any technical problems they were mostly due to people having old or slow or small computers or mobile phones. Sometimes people appeared upside down (although I never saw it myself).

It was also socially a great success. Just like at Stony Stratford, although complete strangers to one another, all concerned got along very amicably. They all had something in common with each other: they were all smokers, and they had all shared the experience of being exiled from their pubs and cafes and clubs to the outdoors. Americans and Brits and Ozzies and Kiwis all got along wonderfully well.

And politically it was also a tiny success. At Stony Stratford, the political goal had been to prevent a street smoking ban. It was only incidentally and secondarily a social occasion. But in the Smoky Drinky Bar there was no singular political goal: it existed purely to bring people together. And that it succeeded in doing in a very small way. As a result of the Smoky Drinky Bar, some 20 or so people now know each other a lot better than they did a week ago. They know what they look like, and sound like. They even know what they wear and what they smoke and even how the insides of their homes are decorated.

There was another small political success in the Smoky Drinky Bar, which was that it managed to subvert the smoking bans that had driven smokers out of their bars and cafes, by creating a virtual online bar in which they could smoke and drink just like they had before. Smokers may no longer be able to meet up in real bars, but they can now do so in virtual bars. And the experience is almost as good. And this marks a singular defeat for Tobacco Control: as smoking is being denormalised in real bars, it is now being renormalised in virtual bars.

One important difference between Stony Stratford and the Smoky Drinky Bar is that the former was a one-day, once-in-a-lifetime event, while the Smoky Drinky Bar is – just like a real bar – an enduring venue. It will continue to exist as long as I continue to pay $12/month for it to be hosted on appear.in.

And we are therefore now in uncharted territory. I don’t really know what happens next.

It’s possible that, with too few customers to chat to one another, people will slowly drift away from the bar, because nobody is ever there. It may not achieve “escape velocity”. Depending on how it’s calculated, I estimate that there needs to be a base of anything between 80 and 2,500 regular visitors if there are always to be a few people in it at the same time purely by chance. And at the moment we only have between 10 and 20 people. And some of these may have looked in just once, never to return.

It isn’t possible for me, as the landlord or patron, to spend my entire time in the bar. I have other things to do. And so I’m now thinking of making a regular appearance in the bar during a restricted period during the evenings (after 7 pm) in the UK: a sort of Happy Hour. This seems to have been the peak period for visitors over the past few days. This should allow Americans and Brits and Europeans to meet fairly easily, at least if they want to talk to me. It’s not so good for Kiwis or Ozzies, however.

It is of course possible for other people to arrange among themselves when and where they’d like to meet up. The singular merit of the Smoky Drinky Bar for meetings is that the premium site is supposed to be able  to accommodate 12 people at the same time, while the free sites can only accommodate 6 people (although only 3, in my experience).

And people may just pop in from time to time, just to see if there’s anyone there. But if they just look in, and immediately leave when they find no-one there, the chances of ever encountering anyone will be vanishingly small. My advice to such casual visitors is to stay in the bar a while and see whether someone else comes in.

One disadvantage of the bar is that it has, so to speak, only one table. Everyone who enters sits around one table together. And since, in my experience, most conversations work best with 2 – 6 people, it may all get rather difficult when there are 12 people sat around the single table, although it may be possible to arrange separate conversations by selectively muting other participants. But eight people is the most I’ve seen so far.

Anyway, the Smoky Drinky Bar has been quite successful so far. It is going to be around for the foreseeable future, and we may see it evolve in a variety of different ways.

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14 Responses to 7 PM Happy Hour in the Smoky Drinky Bar

  1. Pingback: Missive From ‘Merica: ENCORE!!! – Library of Libraries

  2. Clicky says:

  3. Pete j says:

    “It isn’t possible for me, as the landlord or patron, to spend my entire time in the bar”.
    It seems to me that you should do what any landlord would do, have assistants.
    You have said that people all over the world are visiting, from different time zones. Maybe a few volunteers who are around their computers could cover other shifts?
    I would assume that there is a notification when someone enters the room, all other programmes of this type I have seen do this, so they wouldn’t have to be staring at an empty screen all day.

    Just being able to find one other person when someone drops in will hopefully ensure that people won’t be disenchanted and not come back, it might be enough for the idea to not fizzle out.

    • Emily says:

      Excellent idea, I would volunteer to cover some shifts in the evening for EST, CST, MST, etc. but not every evening.

      • If you’re “hanging in the room” can you also be off on another tab writing stuff in your blog or whatever and just get notified with a bell-sound or somesuch when someone comes in?

        • Emily says:

          Yep, you can definitely do that! You can opt in for pop-up notifications via your browser or phone too so even if you’re listening to music or something you should be alerted.

        • RdM says:

          Michael, if you shift focus to another tab you’ve lost contact with the previous one, at least you won’t see it, I’m not sure (yet) whether your camera and sound will remain live, but you’d be taking up limited space in a ‘bar’ that you’re no longer precipitating in…

          But you certainly can get notifications…

          I think the best thing for you would be to visit appear.in itself and set up your own private room;- then you can experiment, see about camera placement & lighting, explore the controls, even preen yourself as though in a mirror! ;- before opening a new tab & going to smokydrinkybar… at least then you’ll have some idea of how it works.

          And then you have your own private room as well, to share with friends & family, or even a second one, for writing related stuff… while logged into one, you will get notifications about the others, and you can refresh the sidebar as well to see if anything’s changed.

          ~ R.

  4. A thought on the “separate conversations” thing: It might be possible to set up chat windows separately from the main window with the videos, either in tabs or in another browser, so that subthreads of thought just interesting to two or three folks could continue a more detailed exploration of an idea could develop while still “hanging” in the bar and generally interacting with everyone else.

    Back in ye olden dinosaur days of C-64s and Q-Link, a gal named BonnieB3 set up a VERY successful chat room (all text) that she called “Bonnie’s Bar” and it regularly attracted a full crowd of 23 people. While there were lots of “fun memes” that took place throughout the evening (E.G. anytime a friend entered the room Bonnie would slide a drink down the bar to them…

    ===========> cB to Barney99

    (I think that was her graphic for a mug of beer, though there were SOOOO many graphic variations I’ve quite forgotten them all. Heh, it WAS, after all, 30 years ago!)

    I’d always liked chat threads for more serious discussions because I retain the information better and because the printed chat format encourages people to be more structured in the presentation of their thinking. Plus, if there’s really good stuff in there you can simply save the chat for future quick reference!

    Dunno what chat facilities exist out there (Heck, maybe they’re already incorporated into the video chat submenus somewhere?) but it might be worth exploring.


    • RdM says:

      “Dunno what chat facilities exist out there (Heck, maybe they’re already incorporated into the video chat submenus somewhere?)”

      Just explore the interface with your own private room to start, as I suggest above;- yes there is a ‘chat’ text facility (a RH sidebar?) but I think the whole point of online video conferencing, or rather just plain meeting, especially in this online ‘virtual bar’ context, is immediate & present contact, a world away from structured text, whether ‘printed chat’ or formal writing, although that may not preclude actually serious discussions…

      And so it involves listening as well as talking, polite pauses, learning how to cope with someone who may have gone off on & into a slightly drunk monologue, group interaction – just, I suppose, like ‘real life’ – and it is real life, in a virtual meeting sense – actually!

      Best wishes;- it’d be great to meet you in real virtual life “through a screen, darkly” even!


  5. Clicky says:

  6. beobrigitte says:

    Great evening!

    It’s the pub life I remember!

  7. Pingback: Silence | Frank Davis

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