Internet Cafes: Do They Have a Future?

Internet Cafes: Do They Have a Future?

Dive into your personal history and ask yourself: When was the last time you frequented an Internet cafe? The answer might surprise you. Though Internet cafes seem like a relic of the late ’90s–a time when home computer ownership wasn’t a given, and a fast, reliable Internet connection was even less likely–they’re still a frequent sight on the streets of any major city.

How has the seemingly antiquated Internet cafe clung to life? There are numerous reasons that range from cultural to practical. In many Asian countries, for instance, Internet cafes don’t merely exist; they thrive. A recent report from Pearl Research outlined the need for China’s 350,000 cafes, which allow millions of Chinese workers (many of whom who work in a factory setting and therefore sleep in company quarters instead of going home to a personal space equipped with a PC) to play many of the tremendously popular MMOs available in the country.

Immigration accounts for some of the demand for internet cafes in North America, but that’s far from the entire story. Anyone who’s ever participated in a LAN party can help fill in the gaps: Playing multiplayer games online is great, but sometimes one gets a craving to enjoy gaming in the vicinity of other human beings–a sensation that’s heightened when a team organizes itself and slinks down the hill like a pack of wolves to take on a hapless target.

And though Internet cafes have a reputation for being noisy, smelly holes in the wall, many are actually clean, comfortable, and provide a dim, quiet environment to get work done in. Most also offer snacks and drinks, though not always of the healthy variety. Still, there’s something relaxing about using a computer in a new environment–especially if you’re not responsible for that computer’s upkeep, and therefore don’t have to be on the edge about spyware and viruses (not that you should purposely infect the cafe’s computers, obviously).

Indeed, Internet cafes take care of their own rigs, which is just one of several practical reasons for the continued existence of the cafe. Computers are a household fixture now, but that doesn’t mean every family owns a top-of-the-line machine that’s capable of work and gaming. “[S]ome people are not good at maintaining their computers, because this is quite a job these days,” Jason Deane , the proprietor of a small internet cafe in the UK told the BBC in a 2009 interview. “Another element is that some companies have restricted the access to websites like Hotmail and Facebook at work. So we have rush hour at lunch time.”

Finally, ask yourself this question: Do you own a printer?

To clarify: Do you own a printer that is functional, has ink, and does not serve as an end table for mountains of CDs and paper?

Chances are you’ve visited an Internet cafe recently to print out some personal documents. Most affordable printers that are sold at retail are inkjets, which run out of ink quickly and, frustratingly, won’t even print a black and white document unless the cyan ink is topped up. And since many internet cafes offer postal and/or faxing services, they can be a convenient place to get a whack of work done in one shot.

Internet cafes are an interesting example of a service that has all the markings of being obsolete, but are in actuality still in great demand. Even as technology becomes more complex, we won’t see them fade away any time soon–after all, if you want to engage in PC gaming, it’s nice to have someone else pick up the bill for a suitable computer.

About Nadia Oxford
Nadia is a freelance writer living in Toronto. She played her first game at four, decided games were awesome, and has maintained her position since. She writes for 1UP.com, Slide to Play, GamePro and other publications, and is About.com’s Guide to the Nintendo DS.

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