Thursday, 1 September 2016

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 WILL move 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 number of cyber cafes were 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 UNLIMITED internet 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 the 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, 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 cybercafes.

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 the café. If you attended ABU, you know THAT café used to be so packed! It was surprising to see just a few people there.

Anyway, I realized that cyber cafes didn’t evolve as fast as other technology based businesses and as such, they were gradually being forced out. People in inner cities still think cafes are cool but most people in urban cities cannot be bothered with a cyber café.

This brings me back to the main crux of the matter.

When cyber cafes were the kings of technology, many people invested in the business. It was big investment and big profit. Typical of most Nigerians, EVERYONE wanted a piece of that juicy pie. People went into the business with the intention of making money and not solving problems. As these ventures started to lose their relevance, people jumped on to the next big thing; which today is web development, graphics, app creation, blogging and the likes.

Today, EVERYONE wants to be a blogger, a web/mobile app designer/developer, graphic artist and things similar to these. It is assumed that these people are making SO MUCH MONEY. Don’t get me wrong. I am not against people going into these fields but I am worried that people are more profit oriented than solution driven. This means that, when artificial intelligence becomes the norm, people will dump what they are doing now for the next big thing.

I was at a creatives seminar recently and one of the key things I learned is that when something new comes up, take the knowledge and improve what you have already, thus making your art much more poignant. This, I believe, is why cyber cafes failed.

I have watched certain movies and read books where top directors and authors (respectively) still put cyber cafes in their work. These are in developed countries with even better usage of mobile devices and personal computers. Even the series C.S.I CYBER (Bow Wow, your acting was so poor they had to cut it!) used cafes for some of their episodes. Why are cafes still relevant in such countries? The answer is quite simple; Knowing. How. To. Evolve!

Knowing how to evolve does not mean doing what everybody is doing. Sometimes, it just means reinventing yourself, learning and RELEARNING new tricks and solving humanity’s needs. With these, you can’t go wrong!

We need to, as a people, stop jumping on what we term the ‘next big thing’ and focus on what solutions we can proffer. When we are solution driven people, the money will come in huge Ghana-must-go bags and even bitcoins. If any lesson is to be taken from Zuckerberg, it is that he saw a need, created a solution and that solution made him the 7th richest man in the world.

It is the era of the nerds but until your geekiness puts human needs first, you may make some money, heck even lots of money, but you will fade out; just like the cyber cafes in Nigeria.

Be versatile. Reinvent yourself. Stay true to you art. Jump off the band wagon. Walk away from the herd. Be you!

2 comments:

  1. Nicely filtered. Nigerians need a rethink on solution finding not waiting.

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    1. Thank you Ofongo. I am most grateful. And welcome to the blog!

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