"When the world’s first internet cafe, Cafe Cyberia, first opened its doors in
London’s West End in September 1994, its founders could never have imagined
what they’d unleashed.
Internet cafes — cheap, accessible venues where just about anyone could explore
cyberspace in its infancy — spread slowly across the world at first, and then
snowballed in popularity. In the spring of 1996, Sri Lanka got its first two
internet cafes: the Cyber Cafe, and the Surf Board. A few months later,
Kuwait’s first internet cafe launched with 16 PCs. In 1999, a travel guide
promised readers a list of 2,000 cafes in 113 countries.
Within a couple years, it was estimated that there were more than 100 internet
cafes in Ghana alone. BusyInternet opened the largest internet cafe in Accra,
boasting 100 screens. By 2002, there were more than 200,000 licensed internet
cafes in China, and still more operating under the table.
“They were mushrooming,” Ricardo Gomez, an associate professor at the
University of Washington who conducted a definitive survey of public internet
access in the late 2000s, told Rest of World
Internet cafes were more than just places to log on. They emerged in the waning
years of the 20th century — a post-Cold War moment full of techno-optimism.
Sharing a global resource like the internet “was going to bring different
people in different cultures together in mutual understanding,” historian and
author Margaret O’Mara told Rest of World
. It was an era in which, both
physically and digitally, “people were moving across borders that before were
very difficult, if not impossible, to cross.”
For many, internet cafes represented the arrival of the future. “The first day
I entered, I didn’t believe it,” a university student in Accra said about
stepping into BusyInternet. “I didn’t believe it was Ghana.”
Teenagers met in internet cafes to evade parental surveillance; students used
them as study halls. Relationships, both digital and IRL, came to life inside
internet cafes; scammers transformed them into the headquarters of
international crime rings. Travelers and migrants logged on to reconnect with
families and friends in distant time zones. Very few people ever bought coffee
at internet cafes.
By the 2010s, though, it was clear that internet cafes were in decline. The
writing had been on the wall for years. In 2004, a Guardian
that the launch of 3G meant that internet cafes “will become an increasingly
rare sight, a logging-in point for students and tourists.” The launch of the
iPhone and the advent of cheap data were just two more nails in the coffin."
Via Esther Schindler.
*** Xanni ***
Chief Scientist, Xanadu
Partner, Glass Wings
Manager, Serious Cybernetics