It was slightly more than 20 years ago when my friend Jason Dunn and I got into a rented car with our Pocket PCs, GPSs, and maps, and set off in search of a cybercafé. This was the time before Wi-Fi was ubiquitous and hotels had high-speed internet. Roaming around a big city in small car and freakishly large devices, we found something, but not what we were looking for.
The wireless networks weren’t fast. They were stuck between 2G and 3G with coverage in the hills of L.A. that was spotty at best. We had predownloaded our maps into the tiny capacities of our devices. The maps took nearly half of the 128MB that the devices had. It felt like we were a sort of modern equivalent of Conestoga wagons; we were blazing new trails.
Today, high-speed internet via Wi-Fi is ubiquitous. Cellular networks are on the cusp of 5G coverage. Phones sport integrated GPS and a terabyte of storage – and nobody carries a separate portable digital assistant (PDA).
The contrast is stunning, but the technology changes aren’t the ones that mattered.
I had a home cybercafé. It was NetHeads, and it was a place where you could play games on their computers or just hang out and have a coffee. It was a place that I knew I could get high-speed internet access and, more than anything, was something I could share with my friend as an experience.
Today, cybercafés are history. The few that remain are either gaming centers or coffee houses that haven’t changed their names or the signs out front. Businesses predicated on the uniqueness of offering high-speed internet have fallen prey to the commoditization of the internet and a plummeting price that makes it easy for every business to offer high-speed internet as a normal amenity to their guests. (Remember when you had to pay for Wi-Fi?)
Around the Corner
We never did find the cybercafé we were looking for. It either had already gone out of business because it couldn’t make the business model work – they may have been too early – or because we simply got lost, even with the GPSs. However, it taught us some interesting lessons.
- You never know what’s around the next corner. I saw parts of Los Angeles I never would have seen that day. I also spent time with a friend that was precious – even if it was crazy and wild.
- Adapt. Had we gotten too focused on the cybercafé destination, we would have missed the city. We ultimately called our search based on time, the lack of remaining battery power, and the willingness to recognize that what we were looking for may not have been there in the first place.
- It’s not permanent. No matter how good the change feels, it’s not permanent. The destinations change and disappear. The tools you use to get to destinations change. When you’re planning for change, you’ve got to realize they’re not the final answers. They’re just the answers for now.