Perhaps in the Americas, where there are more internet connections than you can shake a stick at, an internet cafe would be a shitty choice to get on the internet. I know, because I had a cozy ethernet LAN connection at Cornell. Now for my brief stay in Shanghai, I'm stuck with a pathetically slow dialup, which can barely access to American sites without timing out. As I speak, I'm going through a proxy server in Hong Kong in order to connect to E2.

In China, the internet cafe is a much better alternative, because they usually offer fairly decent connections (>ISDN, pretty good in China) at minimal prices. In addition, most internet cafes have LAN's set up for gamers to play multiplayer games. Not bad at all. I don't know why it's called a cafe, they don't even serve drinks.

Also, these are the only places where you can find people who really thirst for the internet. See A glimpse at the Chinese internet scene.

Internet cafés are oases when travelling. Without them, when suddenly in New Delhi or Kathmandu or Toronto, there is no reliable way to let anyone know that you are safe and sound. I was recently involved in a long-drawn out series of attempts to save the life of someone who was about to be deported back to a fundamentalist Islamic country where his ordination as a Zen monk would have meant imprisonment at best, execution for every other option as conversion constitutes treason according to that country's constitution. Without internet cafés this person would have been dead instead of safe in Japan.

Back in the mid-1990s, when Internet access was still in the process of going from a perk only enjoyed by college students to a nationwide phenomenon, the Internet cafe meme began to form. First spotted on the West Coast, particularly in Seattle, the Internet cafe (aka Internet coffeehouse or Internet coffee shop) soon began to spread to larger cities throughout the country. Reminiscent of a coffee shop crossed with a computer lab, the Internet cafe offered high-caffeine beverages and high-speed Internet in equal proportion.

At least in the United States, Internet cafes have undergone a gradual evolution since their earliest days. It used to be that, like color television in bars soon after its original introduction, high-speed Internet was rare enough that the ability to surf without modem lag was enough of a draw to get people to come to the cafe to spend their Internet time. However, as time marched on, and cablemodem and DSL became more widely adopted, customers had less reason to browse on coffeehouses' often crippled (to prevent accidental damaging actions such as format c:) and outdated (upgrades cost money, after all) hardware than at home on their own machines to which they could save files to disk and print at no charge per page.

But technology soon provided another answer, in the form of IEEE 802.11b/Wi-Fi wireless networking. It soon became apparent that coffeehouses could provide wireless service (either free or metered) and attract users with laptops to browse online from their own machines while enjoying the coffeehouse ambiance (and beverages). Best of all, this meant that the coffeehouses wouldn't have to spring for the computers themselves, or the space in which to host them—the users would bring their own! Now many coffeehouses, such as The Mudhouse in Springfield, Missouri, and chains, such as Starbucks offer wireless service.

And of course, in other countries where the per capita number of broadband connections is not as high as that of the United States, Internet cafes continue to resemble the original American versions. They seem to be particularly popular in Asian nations such as Korea and China.

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