What Happened to Cyber Cafes?

Cyber cafe in Nigeria.Picture: MY TECH PORTAL The visit by the world’s 7th richest man and founder of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, to Nigeria was welcomed as a sign that Nigeria is finally getting noticed by some influencers of Silicon Valley. Most people were excited at the prospect of further collaborations with the tech giant after the success of the Andela story. While people were fawning over him, if I was there I might I have done so too I couldn’t help but conclude that Zuckerberg was here for the dollars; or at least, the potential dollars. This was so eloquently put by Oby Ezekwesili in her tweet below. In spite of that, I am really glad that the world is seeing us as not just technology consumers but also as creators. The future of Nigeria is not technology; it is the present! And if we are able to harness the power that comes from creating solutions using technology, we willmove from the rut the country is in now. As I pondered on the visit of Zuckerberg, I mean people won’t let you rest with the visit all over social media I couldn’t help but be propelled into a not too distant past. It was sometime between 2001 and 2005 and most Nigerians were just discovering the internet. Yahoo was the boss of all bosses and Yahoo Messenger and Myspace were about the only chat sites there were. That was the era of the cyber cafes! I remember going to buy one hour internet time at about ₦200. Internet explorer was the only browsing site I knew and it would take forever for a page to load. Isn’t it funny that the site is still crappy? We used to feel so good to ‘browse’ the internet! Cyber cafes were popping up everywhere. As they did, the price for ‘browsing’ reduced. Even with that, the numbers of cyber cafes were just not enough for the people. Do you remember how cafes used to be filled (to the brim) with people waiting their turn to surf the net? How people booked seats and stood behind those already in front of the computer? How people jostled – literally – for seats as soon as someone got up? And how patient we were with the odors that resulted from having too many people in a tiny room? What a time! Cyber café owners were demi-gods. They had money, they could charge anything they wanted from doe-eyed customers and they could use the internet whenever they wanted. Gradually, phones became more accessible to people and phones with internet features became more prominent. Personal computers and laptops also became cheaper and more accessible to people. As this happened, the number of people going to cyber cafes began to reduce. The reduction was not drastic but it was there. I think the dearth of cyber cafes was the Blackberry phone. When Blackberry phones came into Nigeria in 2006, it caught on like wild fire. Nigerians had moved from the need to just call and receive messages to a need to follow the trend as it happened! Blackberry phones were one up on the other phones – Nokia and Samsung – that were in the market. They introduced the Blackberry Internet Service (BIS) which allowed unlimitedinternet access. People realized they could do whatever they wanted from the comforts of their homes and they went crazy! Cyber cafes were no longer NEEDED! Funny thing is, though Blackberry had the power to push out cafes, they didn’t have the power to remain relevant in the Nigerian market. What a laugh! But that is a story for another day. Helping Blackberry phones destroy cyber cafes were personal modems. People used these modems for their PCs and Laptops and had much better speed than the cafes. People were finding out that the internet could be such a fun, stress-free activity that wasn’t punctuated by the malodorous smells of packed cafes. So…more people stopped going to cafes! As this happened, cyber cafes became more like computer centers for printing out, photocopying and scanning documents. The only time cafes seemed to be relevant was for registering and writing examinations (JAMB, WASSCE, and NECO), registering for new semesters/sessions, filling mass employment application forms (police, immigration etc) and checking results. Then came the era of smartphones; iPhones and android phones. The speed with which these devices took over Nigeria is worthy of scientific research. Almost everybody has one of these phones! Telecommunication companies knew that they could gain more by reducing the cost of data bundles and they went into competition with each other on who had the cheapest data bundles. As they warred with each other and milked Nigerians of their hard earned money more and more people stopped using cyber cafes. I didn’t know how bad it was until I had to send an urgent mail. All my devices were down, and I was time-bound and desperate. I went to a café in Lagos and was the only one there. I bought an hour and had the worst time online since maybe 2010! In that hour, the only other people that came in were really old people or people with little formal education. I bought an extra hour to test my theory and it was solid; young people were not going to cafes anymore! It made me wonder what happened to cybercafés. I knew it was preposterous to base my conclusion on one cyber café so when I got to Abuja, I checked out a couple of cyber cafes. It was the same thing I saw. When I returned home to Kaduna, I went to the cafes I used to hang out in and all five of them showed marked decline in patronage. In fact, one of the biggest cafes in Sabo, Kaduna, was empty; on a Saturday! I followed through by visiting Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Zaria. When my bestie and I passed the café at the Social Center, there were just few people in there. If you attended ABU, you know that café used to be always so packed! It was surprising to see just a few people there. Anyway, I realized that cyber cafes didn’t

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