Tom Standage writes a wonderful article in the New York Times about how the coffee house was the social network of the 1600s, and how it was as much of a distraction as Facebook and Twitter are today. Oxford professors complained that they were ruining education:
Among the first to sound the alarm, in 1677, was Anthony Wood, an Oxford academic. “Why doth solid and serious learning decline, and few or none follow it now in the University?” he asked. “Answer: Because of Coffea Houses, where they spend all their time.”
(To which architect Lance Hosey responded on Facebook, " I doth spend all my time in bars. More productive, I sayeth.")
But in fact, coffee houses spurred innovation, discussion, interaction, business and education. Standage concludes that today's social networks are no different:
There is always an adjustment period when new technologies appear. During this transitional phase, which can take several years, technologies are often criticized for disrupting existing ways of doing things. But the lesson of the coffeehouse is that modern fears about the dangers of social networking are overdone..... As we grapple with the issues raised by new technologies, there is much we can learn from the past.
More in the New York Times
I have taken a different take on the coffee house; In the Future, Everything Will Be A Coffee Shop