Smart gadgets give cyber cafes a run for their money

By Aashish Mishra

Lalitpur, May 5: “Nobody uses the cyber cafes anymore,” was the first sentence that popped out of Ramita Budha’s mouth when she was asked about use of cyber stations’ among general people. 

Although she is an owner of a small cyber station near Gwarko, Lalitpur, she holds a very dystopian view of its future. “Cyber stations will be in operation for maybe 10 more years at most; then they will fade away, like post offices.”
She blames the wide penetration of smartphones and easy access to internet for her falling business. “Smartphones are so cheap that even the street vendors can afford to buy them,” she said swinging her arms to show her empty station, “And everybody has internet, either Wi-Fi or mobile data packs.”
Raman Pradhan, who operates a cyber cafe at Satdobato in Lalitpur, echoed the same sentiment. “People only visit cyber stations when they have extremely urgent works and have no internet access, usually during power cuts.” cyber
This is not an isolated case in Lalitpur only. Cyber stations, once popular hubs for tech-savvy teenagers and internet-using adults, are declining ironically due to the internet revolution. People prefer to use the internet from the comfort of their own homes rather than to go to a distant cyber station.
“In fact, I don’t even need a computer anymore because my smartphone and tablet do everything a desktop can,” stated Adish Shakya, 23. He lives right across the street from a cyber station but said that he hadn’t stepped in there in more than five years.
“Why pay Rs. 20 an hour for services that I have free access to at my fingertips?” he asks.
So, is the doom of the cyber stations inevitable? Not quite, if Pradhan is to be believed. “We just have to expand,” he opined. “If the people no longer require computers and the internet, then we will just have to offer something else that they do require.” For Pradhan, this ‘something else’ turned out to be computer accessories and photocopy services.
Pradhan jubilantly claimed that his business picked up since he started selling accessories like speakers, webcams, routers etc. He also started offering photocopy, printing and lamination services. “Mobile phones may have replaced computers but they have not yet replaced printers, this is the gap we can insert ourselves in,” he said.
Budha agreed and added, “Photocopy and printers have been the saving grace of the cyber business along with children who come to play computer games.” She also said that people came to make financial transactions through eSewa. In fact, the eSewa service is so popular that Budha is considering transforming her cyber to an eSewa centre.
Both Budha and Pradhan opined that the traditional computer-only business model of cyber stations was no longer sustainable in today’s age and provided branching out as the course for the future.

(Mishra interns at TRN) 

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