I’m not usually a perpetrator of “I was a 90s kid” statements. However, I’ve been thinking and reminiscing about something that is almost non-existent today. Hell, I haven’t seen one up and running properly since years. When was the last time you visited a cybercafé just to browse the internet? If you’re reading this, I’m pretty sure the answer is “not in ages.”
To the younger people reading this, cybercafés were places that provided access to the internet for a fee and (some of them) also sold food and drinks. These weren’t grand establishments. Instead, you’d find one in every corner, most of them without the food part.
It was an odd and unbelievable world where phones could only make calls and send text messages. If you had an expensive one, you could load web pages using WAP and act smug about it. However, most of us had to do with dial-up connections at home or cybercafés which provided better speeds.
I remember visiting my first ever cybercafé with two of my cousins. It was a small establishment near their places. It still exists, and I’m sure it does good business still because part of their business was booking tickets and making reservations. I’m also quite sure fewer people pay for internet access in a public environment on PCs which are as old as the time that these places were brimming with people.
I kid you not; we had to wait for our turn because all terminals were occupied. It’s funny how you’re reading this on your phone on a screen that’s high definition. It’s funnier that I get to make that remark while typing this on a screen that’s also high definition.
That was my first cybercafé; a small (yet profitable) establishment in Dalanwala, Dehradun. After my first one, I went around a lot of them. Some of them were worth cycling for kilometres because while most cybercafés didn’t allow for downloading, you had to pay a charge per MB, some of them weren’t smart enough.
So, my cousins and I would go to these places, smuggle our pen drives in and download stuff worth tens of MBs. What did we download? Anything from wallpapers, to Miniclip games, to ROMs for the Game Boy Advance emulators and so on.
It’d be a mission. One guy would act like everything was normal while the two of them would turn the cabinet and plug the flash drive in. Three teenagers, feeling like they were straight out of a Tom Cruise movie.
A plan well executed would mean double-digits in MBs and a cause for celebration.
Admittedly, I watched my first porn movie in a cybercafé. It was one of those who hadn’t blacklisted websites. Most of them were wary of curious teenagers like us. It was my first one because my cousins wanted me to see their recent discovery. We were young after all, but the fact that a small cybercafé is part of that story is rather significant.
A cybercafé was also the place where I started one of my first blogs ever. It was a small blog and Youtube channel where my cousin and I would upload small sprite movies created on MS-Paint, Flash, and Windows Movie Maker. It doesn’t exist now naturally.
However, the fact that I’m writing on an older, more established blog now does owe some share of its existence to that cybercafé and countless others. We’d set our blog as the default homepage on browsers as we left so that we could get one extra hit from anyone who tried browsing in that cafe and used terminal.
Then, the fire nation attacked.
Jokes and references apart. Broadband connections came and so did better phones. 3G and later, 4G entered our lives and visits to cybercafés just up and stopped. No sign or warning. People just stopped going to them one day. Except if you wanted to play Counter-Strike 1.6. Most cybercafés became gaming cafes where a group of friends would pay for an hour to play on PCs that could only support CS1.6.
The idea for gaming cafes thrived obviously and dedicated ones, with better systems, popped up everywhere and are still increasing. However, they left their ancestors behind, and cybercafés were reduced to print-out and photostat shops where systems decreased one after the other until only a couple were left, one of which has a broken keyboard while the other’s display is miscalibrated to blue only.
It’s funny how years of our lives revolved around these places. For some, it was decades. I was probably part of that last generation which visited cybercafés for actually spending time there. I’m sure most people go to the few which exist today, by comparison to when I was a kid, in a minute of emergency or just to get a page printed out on the printer stationed outside while ranting about the condition of that one dusty system stationed in the corner.
I can only sigh and smile about how something that big a part of my life just vanished to corners and obscurity when something better came along, and then I claim I have trouble moving on. Not so much, after all.