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June 6th, 2009:

Why Europe Stinks €. 6 – Internet Cafes

Internet Cafe in Berlin Shopping CenterThey’re dirty.

They’re smelly.

And they are chalk-full of Euro-Trash.

And no—I’m not talking about youth hostels either.

I’m talking about a kind of place that manages to be far less pleasant. A place that combines gruff service, cramped conditions, poor ventilation, rancid smells, and dated technology—the internet café.

The typical European internet café is about as warm and inviting as a truck stop on the side of the interstate. Most often, the “café” is presided over by a disgruntled man in his mid-30s who passes the day by staring at his cell phone. When you approach him to purchase some service he will simply ignore you. If you do manage to get his attention, he will gruffly inform you that they can neither take credit cards nor make change.

If the cafe itself is not located in a basement or backroom, it might as well be since the windows are invariably so dirty as to block out any natural light. And as far as the computers are concerned, they are neither modern, nor easy to use. If you manage to log into one of the grime-covered terminals and encounter an error, the closest thing to tech support you’ll find is the smelly guy in the corner who looks as if he has been camped out at that particular computer since German Reunification.

But despite their unpleasantness—or perhaps because of it—Europe (and much of the rest of the world) is plastered with internet cafes.

Why? Because internet cafes fit nicely into the European approach to the world. When faced with a scarce resource—internet access—Europeans respond by finding ways to effectively ration it. If we encourage places where people pay for internet access by the minute, then we don’t need to worry about providing people with cheap computers and reliable high-speed internet access, or so the thinking goes.

In America, we took a different approach. We expanded internet access by driving computer prices ridiculously low and engaging in a speculative infrastructure bubble that spread high-speed access to every corner of the country. Today, any America can buy a new laptop for less than $500 and enjoy free broadband internet access at countless coffee shops and restaurants across the country—not to mention cheap, unlimited broadband at home. (I am writing this post from a bar with free wifi).

Today, the only places you can find internet cafes in America are places frequented by European tourists. We keep them to make the backpackers feel comfortable.

Previous topics mentioned in this post:

#6. Chargebacks and Credit Cards

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