Looking back at the cybercafés of the future

Everything innovative and cutting-edge is destined to become quaint and old-fashioned — from cassettes, DVDs and mobile phones, to laptops and the web itself, even. Looking back at the internet of the 90s, it’s easy to forget how revolutionary and necessary cybercafés once were.

Introducing the crazy new world of cybercafesCNET: YouTube
“What happens when plugged-in people congregate for a little indoor surfing? You get cybercafés. Desmond Crisis, the newest member of the CNET central team, takes us on a tour of these hi-tech hangouts.”

The hippest internet cafe of 1995Vox: YouTube
The cyber-struggle is real. Vox’s Phil Edwards spoke to one of the founders of @ Cafe, an internet cafe that launched just as the internet was coming into the public eye.

Cybercafés were the brainchild of Ivan Pope, as he’s keen to tell us, though Cyberia’s Eva Pascoe was perhaps more influential.

The first Internet cafe operates (for two days)History of Information
Commissioned to develop an Internet event for “Towards the Aesthetics of the Future,” an arts weekend at the Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA) in London, Ivan Pope wrote a proposal outlining the concept of a café with Internet access from the tables. Pope’s Cybercafe, the first Internet cafe, operated only during the weekend event, March 12-13, 1994. Pope and internet artist Heath Bunting planned to open London’s first cybercafe later in 1994, but were preempted by Cyberia, an internet cafe founded in London in September 1994.

Cafe with a mission to explain: Cyberia offers chance to check your e-mail and network over coffee and croissantThe Independent
Welcome to Cyberia, Britain’s first cybercafe, where you can turn on, tune in and ‘surf’ the information superhighway. The cafe concept, devised to make a computer environment less formidable, has been borrowed from California where ‘surfing’ – or hopping between global databanks – is commonplace. Here in Whitfield Street, central London, over a cappuccino and an almond croissant, cognoscenti and novices alike can communicate with kindred spirits around the world. Even people with scant technical knowledge will be able to access international databanks and pick up ‘e-mail’.

All About Eva: Wired UK Issue 2.04 April 1996Yoz
Cyberia is a barely-decorated street-level space where 50-year-old gardening club members, 40-year-old advertising execs, 30-year-old nurses, 20-year-old hairdressers and still-living-with-their-mums teenagers sit shoulder to shoulder basking in the joys of the Internet. And that means it’s the cool hang-out for technologically-curious people in London.

They spread everywhere — from London to San Francisco, Paris, even Bolton.

Remembering the Horseshoe, quite possibly the nation’s first Internet cafeHoodline
Before the city’s coffee shops were filled with laptops, Internet cafes were among the few places to access the World Wide Web outside of the home. The Lower Haight once boasted one such spot: the Horseshoe Cafe at 566 Haight St. Said to be the first Internet cafe in the nation, the cafe opened in the 1990s, and endured until it caught fire and closed in 2005.

Cybercafes@ParisSecrets of Paris
My favorite was the High Tech Café up on top of the Galeries Lafayette next to Montparnasse. It has passed on to its next life as a restaurant, but just to give you an idea of how the French interpret an internet café: the computers were lined up on one side, with a dining room and bar on the other side, a big dancefloor in between with a disco ball. I could order food and drinks while sitting at the keyboard, and on Friday nights I could barely type out my e-mails because the karaoke was too loud.

8 of Edinburgh’s best-known internet cafes of the 2000sEdinburgh News
They were the petrol stations for drivers on the “information superhighway”, filling us up with all our World Wide Web needs in an age when fewer than a quarter of us had internet access at home. While they can still be found in the Capital, the early 2000s witnessed a surge in the number of internet cafes in the city with the number of people reliant on them at its peak. From Scotland’s first, Hanover Street’s Cyberia, to the gigantic Easy Everything on Rose Street, we take a look at 8 of Edinburgh’s most fondly-recalled cyber cafes.

Cyber cafe set to keep doors openWarrington Guardian
Youngsters in Winsford can continue to surf the net and develop their computer skills after the Cybercafe scheme proved to be a huge success. The cafe, at Willow Wood Community Centre, attracted 200 youngsters in its first week who were all keen to surf the internet, play computer games and even take part in a pool tournament. The scheme was originally set up to run for four weeks, but as it was such a hit, it will run for a further six.

Cyber cafe is a winnerThe Bolton News
Two friends who run a Horwich Internet cafe believe they have logged on to a franchise winner. Directors Gary Marsden and Hassan Isaji spent several months planning the details before the December opening of Cyberjungle on the Middlebrook leisure development at Lostock. Customers can enjoy a cappuccino coffee while using one of the 16 available computer terminals to send e-mails or surf the worldwide web.

People loved them …

I landed on IRC in a hot summer night 1996Fred Thoughts
I landed on IRC in a hot summer night 1996. The Internet room at my local cybercafe was small and smelly. The air was full of a persistent mix of dust, sweat, coffee, cold cigarette and cheap washing powder. It was filled with 4 old PCs, recycled from the gaming room. Most of the day, it was empty but passed 7PM, it was constantly full of people. For 4.5 € an hour, the introvert I was started a wonderful social life. I was surfing the awakening World Wide Web and chat with people from the other side of the world, staying hours after the shop closed its curtains. Around 4 AM, the owner kicked us out, and I walked back home across the dormant city before another boring day, another night online.

… and they were keen to let you know what was going on.

Cyberia Edinburgh live webcam!Cybersurf
If you can see the inside of the café: those people sitting at the computers are our valued customers. They are mostly writing e-mails, word processing or perhaps chatting on IRC. If you would like to chat with any of them, I’m afraid there is currently no reliable way to reach them, aside from visiting every IRC channel and running a ‘finger’ on every single person! For lively chat on all things Scottish, try #scotland on your local server. If the channel doesn’t exist, start one up! Who knows, perhaps someone you can see will join it!

Cyberpub CAMS
Air Academy Spy Cam; Apple Live; Brew Cam, Sacramento; Café Boatquay; Cafe Brno, Repubblica Ceca Internet Bar; Cafe’ Action Cam, Switzerland…

Everyone wanted to get involved.

Tesco joins Internet café societyDesign Week
A Tesco spokesman confirms that “we are going to do it” though there are no definite plans about the number of outlets or where they will be. He believes the cafés will build on the success of the existing Tesco website, which was established in July 1998 and created by Designer City. “TescoNet is going very well, but there is still a large proportion of people who are curious about the Internet. They are put off by big computer brands and have a fear of the technology,” he explains.

Apple nearly got in on it, too.

Apple once considered building futuristic cybercafes instead of Apple StoresThe Next Web
Developed in collaboration with Mega Bytes, the Apple Cafe was imagined as an innovative internet cafe with a “high tech” interior design that reflected the forward-looking mindset the Big A aspired to stand for. Radically diverging from the facade of traditional retail stores, the modernist locale was slated to bring together food service, paraphernalia retail, user support and computer sales into one single common space.

Apple almost built a futuristic cybercafe in 1997 with computers at every tableMacRumors
Jobs was reportedly involved in the design process, choosing Christopher’s team because of their work creating unique retail spaces. Jobs wanted a way for Apple to connect to customers, which led to the idea of a cafe equipped with Apple products. A computer was at every table, where people could do things like order food, watch movies, surf the web, design web pages, and play video games.

That EasyJet guy had big plans …

U.K. gets largest cyber cafeCNN Money
Stelios Haji-Ioannou, the founder and chairman of U.K.-based no-frills carrier easyJet, opened the first in a chain of giant Internet cafes, called easyEverything Internet shops, opposite one of London’s largest railway stations. The huge 10,000 square foot store, opposite Victoria Station in central London, has 400 screens and will offer access to the Internet from prices as low as 1 pound ($1.60) per hour. The standard telephone costs alone for home users in the U.K. is around 1.05 pounds. London’s first Internet cafe, Cyberia, charges 3 pounds for a half hour session.

… which led to even bigger plans.

U.K. cyber cafe heads to New YorkCNN.com
EasyEverything founder Stelios Haji-Ioannou is planning to extend his chain of big orange cyber cafes to the Big Apple, a spokesman for the company said Monday. The easyEverything chain offers low-cost Internet access to travellers and others without their own computers through its five London cyber cafes, easily recognizable by their giant orange facades. Located in tourist areas such as Oxford Street and Victoria Station, the cafes have a total of 2,300 computer terminals. The company has recently added outlets in Rotterdam, Edinburgh, Amsterdam and Barcelona.

Some had their doubts …

Internet cafe chain to try a Times Sq. connectionThe New York Times
Among the reasons EasyEvery thing, which is open 24 hours a day, may have succeeded in London are that most people here do not own personal computers and that the telephone rates for dial-up modem access to the Internet are significantly higher than in the United States. Because local telephone calls are billed by the minute here — not a flat rate like American telephone companies offer — Internet users must pay the telephone company and the access providers, like America Online, every time they log on.

”By itself, it is deadly dull for a U.S. audience,” said Bruce Kasrel, a senior analyst at Forrester Research, which analyzes e-commerce. ”People already have Internet access at the office and at home.” He cited empty Internet access terminals at airports as an example of a similar scheme that had not worked.

… which turned out to be well-founded.

‘The world’s first,’ Café Cyberia in London, takes a bow : A decade of Internet cafésThe New York Times
But like many entrepreneurs from the early dot-com years, Pascoe left the business in 1998 and went on to other projects. The chain of Cyberia cafés were sold to South Korean investors about three years ago, who rebranded them under the name Be the Reds, or BTR — borrowing a cheer shouted by supporters of the South Korean soccer team. […]

Haji-Ioannou has said that he overinvested in the business, which turned into a big money-loser for his EasyGroup.

Stelios bails out EasyEverythingBBC News
The EasyEverything internet cafe chain has run out of money and is to get a £15m funding injection from its founder, budget airline entrepreneur Stelios Haji-Ioannou. But Mr Haji-Ioannou confirmed he is cutting the value of shares held by staff from one pound to one penny as part of the refinancing.

I have kidnapped your auntie: The Ballad of the Bad Café, and the end of the road for the internet café hoboBBC World Service
I have now completed a world journey of internet cafes. Scroll to the bottom of the blog and you’ll see I started all bright and bushy-tailed, finding stories of education, enterprise and cheer. There are huge advantages to the public nature of internet cafes. And – as I discovered in programme three – some disadvantages too. As I type this in my comfortable office, the only people who can “shoulder surf” or look over my shoulder at what I’m writing, are colleagues. For me, privacy is easy. On the other hand, Sam Roberts shoulder-surfed a man in Burkina Faso and saw he was threatening to kidnap someone’s auntie.

Cybercafés haven’t entirely gone away …

The weird, sketchy history of internet cafesGizmodo
The idea was eventually exported to New York’s Times Square in 2000, but by then, the idea of going someplace to simply get online was already getting outdated and quaint. The internet was something you could access from home; it was evolving. And internet cafes got a whole lot weirder. […]

Flannel-wearing 90s hipsters got Internet cafes off the ground, but internet pirates jonesing for free movies and music took the establishment to a whole new level. At the turn of the millennium—around the same time Napster became popular—sharing music online did, too. And people in pursuit of illicit MP3s started filling internet cafes again. […]

PC bangs [internet cafes built for just for gaming] are still in full force today, with over 22,000 reported in 2007. Patrons spend a buck an hour for the all-you-can-play, high-speed bandwidth, powerful hardware, and snacks for purchase. Gaming addiction is also a problem, with work and school falling by the wayside as gamers spend all their time and money at PC bangs. In 2011, Korea implemented a controversial curfew that mandated customers under 16 were not allowed in internet cafes from midnight to 6 a.m.

… but they are very different places now.

The Japanese workers who live in internet cafesVice
For 10 months, Fumiya, a 26-year-old Japanese security guard, has been living in a 24-hour internet cafe. In a tiny cubicle where he can barely stand, he sits hunched over a glowing screen, chain smoking and chugging soda between his work shifts. When he is able to sleep, he puts a blanket over his face to block out the fluorescent lights.

Japan’s disposable workers: Net cafe refugeesMediaStorm: Vimeo
Internet cafes have existed in Japan for well over a decade, but in the mid 2000’s, customers found a new use for these spaces: living quarters. As a result, cafes are now equipped with showers and laundry service, all reasonably priced for overnight users. “Internet cafe refugees,” as they are called by the media, are mostly temporary employees. Their salary is too low to rent their own apartments. The number of low-paid temp workers, with little benefits and no job security, has been steadily climbing. Today, more than one in three are temporary workers.

For HK$55 a night, Hong Kong’s ‘invisible homeless’ or working poor turn to cybercafes, amid unaffordable rents and with nowhere to goSouth China Morning Post
Air conditioning and desktops for internet are better options than squalid, bug-infested subdivided flats or 24-hour fast-food chains.

Life hasn’t returned to normal for China’s internet cafesSouth China Morning Post
Business are urged to reopen across the country as coronavirus infections drop, but gamers wonder when they can visit their favorite haunts again.

So yes, cybercafés are still around …

All about internet cafesLifewire
Do your research at home before traveling and bring along a list of well-rated cyber cafes. Travel guides often provide locations of internet cafes for travelers. Do a Google search for cyber cafes in the areas you plan to visit. A Google Maps search of your intended destination will pinpoint locations. Check in advance to find out if an internet cafe is still open. They often have unusual hours and close down with little or no notification.

… though they are now as far from their chic hi-tech bistro beginnings as it’s possible to be. Many of the existing ones, little more than just mobile phone shops, are all using the same Google template. Not all, though.

Internet Cafe Kentish Town
Internet Cafe Kentish Town. From 09.45 til 22.30. Printing and Photocopying. Hampstead. Highgate.

Global Gaming Arena
Founded in 1998, Netadventure Cybercafe and Global Gaming Arena was the UKs first dedicated on-line gaming centre. We concentrate on being a community for gamers to meet as well as to play.

Still, if you’re interested in setting one up, there are companies out there ready to offer all you need, from IT admin software to more bespoke website templates.

Internet Cafe softwareAntamedia
Antamedia Internet Cafe software controls, secures, and enhances the running of your Internet cafe, gaming center, eSports center, library, school or hotel public computers. The software restricts access to the system, desktop, drives, folders and programs based on your settings. It helps you control and bill your customers for the Internet browsing, playing games, using Office applications, even covering retail products.

Talnet Internet Cafe HTML5 website templateTemplate Monster
The Talnet internet cafe HTML5 website template provides a modern & bright design combined with a spacious layout. It is a perfect choice for any internet cafe or coworking space.

Or you could just run a simulation instead.

Internet Cafe SimulatorSteam
You must pay the rent of your apartment and shop. You must satisfy your customers. You should install more elegant and powerful gaming computers. You can also do illegal work if you want. But be careful, the price can be very heavy.

Internet Cafe Simulator 2Steam
You can attract more customers on rainy days. Increase the skills you want to develop from the tech tree. Will you become a business prodigy or a brawler skilled at protecting his cafe? You have to earn money to pay off your brother’s debt!

Internet Cafe Simulator (PC) reviewHardcore Gamers Unified
Internet Cafe Simulator puts you in charge of a brand-new internet café. As the new boss, every success and failure is in your hands. Purchase new computers and make sure they’re updated with the latest and greatest applications and games. Choose how much you want to charge customers so you can maximize profit by chasing them away, after all, you need to pay the rent at the end of every month!

I think I’ll continue trying to set up my cybercafé in Second Life. Pop in, if you’re passing. Free internet access!

You don’t hate email

Another Monday, another full email inbox. For all our struggles with it, it’s a system we’ve had for decades and is still going strong, regardless of its critics.

Here’s Joanne McNeil’s positive (kind of?) take on it all. As she succinctly summarises in her recent newsletter, “you own your email/there’s no Zuckerberg of email/what you actually hate about email is work”.

In defence of email, the tech marvel we couldn’t do without: Joanne McNeilThe Guardian
Email – built collaboratively for the public – is just another casualty of work that demands 24-hour availability and cordial performance. It’s an example of how “things we used to keep for ourselves”, as Sarah Jaffe writes in her book Work Won’t Love You Back, “are suddenly in demand on the job, including our friendships, our feelings, and our love”. Those who were online in the 1990s and 2000s might remember when the messages in their inboxes were delightful, curious and thoughtful. The joys of email were easier to appreciate when users primarily communicated with friends and family through it.

Saying goodbye

Another article about grief and chatbots, and another one about the end of the web.

The Jessica Simulation: Love and loss in the age of A.I.San Francisco Chronicle
As Joshua continued to experiment, he realized there was no rule preventing him from simulating real people. What would happen, he wondered, if he tried to create a chatbot version of his dead fiancee? There was nothing strange, he thought, about wanting to reconnect with the dead: People do it all the time, in prayers and in dreams. In the last year and a half, more than 600,000 people in the U.S. and Canada have died of COVID-19, often suddenly, without closure for their loved ones, leaving a raw landscape of grief. How many survivors would gladly experiment with a technology that lets them pretend, for a moment, that their dead loved one is alive again — and able to text?

The day the good internet diedThe Ringer
The internet lasts forever, the internet never forgets. And yet it is also a place in which I feel confronted with an almost unbearable volume of daily reminders of its decay: broken links, abandoned blogs, apps gone by, deleted tweets, too-cutesy 404 messages, vanished Vines, videos whose copyright holders have requested removal, lost material that the Wayback Machine never crawled, things I know I’ve read somewhere and want to quote in my work but just can’t seem to resurface the same way I used to be able to. Some of these losses are silly and tiny, but others over the years have felt more monumental and telling. And when Google Reader disappeared in 2013, it wasn’t just a tale of dwindling user numbers or of what one engineer later described as a rotted codebase. It was a sign of the crumbling of the very foundation upon which it had been built: the era of the Good Internet.

Not selling the web, ok?

Tim’s in the news again, in another ridiculous NTF story.

Tim Berners-Lee’s NFT of world wide web source code sold for $5.4mThe Guardian
The NFT sold on Wednesday was created by the English scientist Berners-Lee in 2021 and represents ownership of various digital items from when he invented the world wide web in 1989. The sale effectively comprises a blockchain-based record of ownership of files containing the original source code for the world wide web. The final price was $5,434,500 and half of the bidders were new to Sotheby’s.

A tidy sum.

Tim Berners-Lee defends auction of NFT representing web’s source codeThe Guardian
“This is totally aligned with the values of the web,” Berners-Lee told the Guardian. “The questions I’ve got, they said: ‘Oh, that doesn’t sound like the free and open web.’ Well, wait a minute, the web is just as free and just as open as it always was. The core codes and protocols on the web are royalty free, just as they always have been. I’m not selling the web – you won’t have to start paying money to follow links. “I’m not even selling the source code. I’m selling a picture that I made, with a Python programme that I wrote myself, of what the source code would look like if it was stuck on the wall and signed by me.

That ‘not selling the source code’ doesn’t quite square with how this was being reported earlier, but whatever.

World Wide Web code that changed the world up for auction as NFTReuters
The original source code for the World Wide Web that was written by its inventor Tim Berners-Lee is up for sale at Sotheby’s as part of a non-fungible token, with bids starting at just $1,000. […] The digitally signed Ethereum blockchain non-fungible token (NFT), a one-of-a-kind digital asset which records ownership, includes the original source code, an animated visualization, a letter written by Berners-Lee and a digital poster of the full code from the original files.

When phones were fun

Do you remember the good ol’ days before almost every mobile phone designer converged on the now ubiquitous glossy, black rectangle? No? Perhaps this new TV series might help.

Rise and fall of cell phone company Nokia will be charted in new TV seriesVariety
Rabbit Films has begun production on “Mobile 1.0” (working title), a six-part scripted drama that explores the meteoric rise of Nokia to become the world’s leading manufacturer of mobile phones before a dramatic fall from grace. […]

“Mobile 1.0” is the first account of the Finnish electronics company’s expansion from a small business into a global player in the mobile phone industry, beating huge established brands. The first season will focus on the years 1988-1990, when technology for mobile phones was in its infancy.

It’s not the first time Nokia has traded in nostalgia. Remember the relaunch of their 3310?

Those who want to reminisce a little more might be interested in these videos from Michael Fisher, aka Mr Mobile.

When phones were funYouTube Playlist
In “When Phones Were Fun,” Michael Fisher re-reviews cellphones from the golden age of mobile, the decade-long span of experimentation from the turn of the century to approximately 2009. From one-of-a-kind relics like the Samsung Matrix Phone and Motorola AURA, to mainstream smash hits like the T-Mobile Sidekick, “When Phones Were Fun” is 50% retro review, 50% mobile-tech history lesson … and 100% nostalgia comfort-food goodness!

But perhaps I should be more optimistic about current phone designers. Not all of them make glossy, black rectangles. Some are designing glossy, black rectangles that bend and swivel.

That last one is interesting, but perhaps not interesting enough? Oh well.

Nothing lasts forever #2

After 25 years, the original Space Jam website has been replacedEsquire Middle East
The original website, launched in 1996, became a viral phenomenon in the early 2010s, as an internet that had evolved far past the 56k dial up modem found the site completely untouched from what it had once been. In an online world in which it often seems nothing is preserved, visiting the website felt genuinely like discovering the Tomb of Tutankhamun.

Web designer Max Böck compares the resources and loading times of the two versions. Progress?

Space JamMax Böck
Although connection speeds and devices keep getting better and better, the web is actually getting slower. We see the increasing bandwidth as an invitation to use more and more stuff in our websites. More images, more videos, more JavaScript. We just keep filling the available space, jamming up the pipes in the process so nothing actually gets faster. Well, at least the dial-up sound is gone now.

Here’s something from the Web Design Museum for those in the mood for more movie reminiscences.

Flash websites of Hollywood moviesYouTube Playlist
Via B3TA – “The Web Design museum are collecting flash intros to film websites, should you want to remember what the Memento site looked like in order to tattoo it on your leg so you never forget again.”

So, farewell then, [o-O]

My knowledge of product design starts and stops with Dieter Rams. Up until recently, I had no idea who Lou Ottens was or the extent of his impact.

Lou Ottens, inventor of the cassette tape, dies aged 94The Guardian
As product development manager at Philips, Ottens twice revolutionised the world of music, but he remained modest to the end. “We were little boys who had fun playing,” he said. “We didn’t feel like we were doing anything big. It was a kind of sport.” […]

Following the war, Ottens obtained an engineering degree, and he started work at the Philips factory in Hasselt, Belgium, in 1952. Eight years later he was promoted to head of the company’s newly established product development department, and within a year he unveiled the EL 3585, Philips’s first portable tape recorder, which would go on to sell more than a million units.

This is what an EL 3585 looks like, perfect for its time.

But it was two years later that Ottens made the biggest breakthrough of his life – born out of annoyance with the clumsy and large reel-to-reel tape systems of the time. “The cassette tape was invented out of irritation about the existing tape recorder, it’s that simple,” he would later say.

I like the idea that it’s irritation and not necessity that’s the mother of invention. But as we’ve seen before, time is unstoppable, change is inevitable, people are fickle. As Things Magazine says, “How strange to have seen your invention lauded and adopted worldwide, before slowly and inexorably fading out of view, only to have a strange reemergence right at the end of your life.” At least he got to see 90.

Lou Ottens, inventor of the cassette tape, has diedNPR
The resurgence is driven by a mix of nostalgia and an appreciation for tapes’ unique status as a tangible but flexible format. For decades, music fans have used mixtapes to curate and share their favorite songs. Unsigned bands have also relied on them as a way to promote their music. Those who have used cassettes to quickly record music include the Rolling Stones’ Keith Richards, who famously said he captured one of his band’s biggest songs in the middle of the night.

“I wrote ‘Satisfaction’ in my sleep,” Richards wrote in Life, his 2010 autobiography. Adding that he had no memory of writing the song, Richards said he woke up one morning to find that his Philips cassette recorder was at the end of its tape — apparently, he concluded, he had written something during the night. When Richards rewound the tape, he heard the song’s now-iconic guitar riff and his voice saying, “I can’t get no satisfaction.”

Here’s more from the man himself.

Cassette: A Documentary Mixtape – Documentary Film Trailer (2016)YouTube
Cassette inventor Lou Ottens digs through his past to figure out why the audiotape won’t die. Rock veterans like Henry Rollins, Thurston Moore, and Ian MacKaye join a legion of young bands releasing music on tape to push Lou along on his journey to remember.

Mixtapes are wonderful things, so evocative. Can clicking on a link to a Spotify playlist come anywhere near the feeling of being handed a mixtape?

‘Mixture of Jane’s trendy records!!!’: discover readers’ cherished mixtapesThe Guardian
Following the death of Lou Ottens, creator of the cassette tape, Guardian readers share the romances, friendships and discoveries his invention generated.

Rubbish mixtape: fan reunited with cassette 25 years after losing itThe Guardian
Stella Wedell was 12 when she took the tape on a Spanish holiday to listen to songs by the likes of Pet Shop Boys, Shaggy and Bob Marley on her Walkman. Wedell, from Berlin, lost the tape either on the Costa Brava or in Mallorca and was astounded when she spotted it a quarter of a century later in an exhibition by the British artist and photographer Mandy Barker, who specialises in creating pieces out of plastic marine debris.

Out with the new, in with the old

I got off the iPhone conveyor belt around iPhone 4, I think, so all the recent talk about the new Windows Phone-style widgets within iOS14 has passed me by.

These iOS 14 apps offer home screen widgets and more9to5Mac
Apple has officially released iOS 14, iPadOS 14, and watchOS 7 to the public. The updates bring many new features to iPhone, iPad, and Apple Watch users, and third-party developers have been hard at work on updating their apps to take advantage of Apple’s latest tools.

I know I’m biased but– I don’t know, is it all starting to look a little too busy? I’d much rather look at these homescreens.

iOS: A visual historyThe Verge
Although it may be difficult to imagine now, when the original iPhone was introduced, it was actually well behind the competition when it came to a strict feature-by-feature comparison. Windows Mobile, Palm OS, Symbian, and even BlackBerry were all established systems in 2007, with a wide and deep array of features. Comparatively, the iPhone didn’t support 3G, it didn’t support multitasking, it didn’t support 3rd party apps, you couldn’t copy or paste text, you couldn’t attach arbitrary files to emails, it didn’t support MMS, it didn’t support Exchange push email, it didn’t have a customizable home screen, it didn’t support tethering, it hid the filesystem from users, it didn’t support editing Office documents, it didn’t support voice dialing, and it was almost entirely locked down to hackers and developers.

Yet all of those missing features hardly mattered and nearly everybody knew it.

Free vintage computers

Well, models of them, at least.

Papercraft ModelsRocky Bergen
Construct the computer from your childhood or build an entire computer museum at home with these paper models, free to download and share.

Yes, there’s the Apple Macintosh, the BBC microcomputer and some Nintendo and Sega systems, but my faves are definitely the Commodore 64, complete with printer and paper, and the Sinclair ZX Spectrum with a TV and cassette recorder from the 1982 Dixons catalogue, no less. (via Boing Boing)

It’s been more years than I care to remember, but I can still hear and feel those keyboards—the clack of the Commodore’s and the squidge of those silly little Spectrum keys.

And for more retro goodness, how about two minutes of beeps and chimes from other old machines.

Windows All Startup Sounds on Piano – Bored Piano

The tech left behind

I first read this on my phone and now here I am, blogging about it on my tablet.

Why laptops could be facing the end of the lineThe Conversation
Research shows that PC and laptop ownership, usage and importance have declined over the past three years, replaced largely by smartphones. A survey of internet users found just 15% thought their laptop was their most important device for accessing the internet, down from 30% in 2015, while 66% thought their smartphone was most important, up from 32%.

This has led some commentators to predict the slow death of the laptop because of young people’s preference for and greater familiarity with the devices in their pocket. But a survey by UK regulator Ofcom in 2017 also found there has also been a record rise in older people using smartphones and tablets.

Good riddance?

How your laptop ruined your lifeThe Atlantic
As laptops have kept improving, and Wi-Fi has continued to reach ever further into the crevices of American life, however, the reality of laptops’ potential stopped looking quite so rosy. Instead of liberating white-collar and “knowledge” workers from their office, laptops turned many people’s whole life into an office. Smartphones might require you to read an after-hours email or check in on the office-communication platform Slack before you started your commute, but portable computers gave workers 24-hour access to the sophisticated, expensive applications—Salesforce CRM, Oracle ERP, Adobe Photoshop—that made their full range of duties possible.

Mobiles, mobiles, mobiles. They’re practically compulsory these days.

tech-left-behind

Desktop vs Mobile vs Tablet market share worldwideStatCounter Global Stats
Mobile – 52.02%, Desktop – 45.29%, Tablet – 2.7%

But not all mobiles, though. Did you ever have a Blackberry, the one that perhaps started it all?

RIP Blackberry phones — you really f***ed us over, but that keyboard was greatThe Outline
Blackberry phones died a slow death throughout the 2010s, as people migrated to newer phones with a wider selection of functions, apps, and so on. But the Blackberry’s rise was marked by the cultural shift that is, I think, the greatest anxiety of the smartphone era: the rapid upswing in how much time we spend on our damn phones.

When Barack Obama became president in 2008, he famously fought for (and won) the right to keep using his Blackberry (the phone would become the official device given out by large swathes of the federal government, including Congress). And years before reverting to a “dumb phone” became a thing for trendsetters like Anna Wintour, magazine writers tried the same stunt to lessen their Blackberry usage. One Daily Mail headline from 2006 warned of a “Blackberry addiction ‘similar to drugs,’” describing the kind of behavior we now readily associate with social media and phones more generally (“One key sign of a user being addicted is if they focus on their Blackberry ignoring those around them.”).

The rise and fall of BlackBerryYouTube

Another GlobalStats chart that caught my eye was this one, illustrating Chrome’s dominance over the other browsers.

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Browser market share worldwideStatCounter Global Stats
Chrome – 64.1%, Safari – 17.21%, Firefox – 4.7%, Samsung Internet – 3.33%, UC Browser – 2.61%, Opera – 2.26%

Here’s The Register’s take on that.

Why Firefox? Because not everybody is a web designer, sillyThe Register
The problem with thinking that the web would be better with only one browser is that it raises the question – better for who? Better for web designers? Maybe, but that’s a statistically insignificant portion of the people on the web. Better for users? How?

But for those of us that are/were, here’s a look back at a simpler time.

Old CSS, new CSSFuzzy Notepad
Damn, I miss those days. There were no big walled gardens, no Twitter or Facebook. If you had anything to say to anyone, you had to put together your own website. It was amazing. No one knew what they were doing; I’d wager that the vast majority of web designers at the time were clueless hobbyist tweens (like me) all copying from other clueless hobbyist tweens. … Everyone who was cool and in the know used Internet Explorer 3, the most advanced browser, but some losers still used Netscape Navigator so you had to put a “Best in IE” animated GIF on your splash page too. […]

Sadly, that’s all gone now — paved over by homogenous timelines where anything that wasn’t made this week is old news and long forgotten. The web was supposed to make information eternal, but instead, so much of it became ephemeral. I miss when virtually everyone I knew had their own website. Having a Twitter and an Instagram as your entire online presence is a poor substitute.

Indeed.

Happy Robot Day!

They come in all shapes and sizes, but they’re all 99 years old today, kind of.

Today in History 1921: The word ‘Robot’ enters the English languageBoing Boing
On January 25, 1921 the Czech play Rossum’s Universal Robots premiered, entering the word into the Science Fiction vocabulary.

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The Czech play that gave us the word ‘Robot’The MIT Press Reader
Thus, “R.U.R.,” which gave birth to the robot, was a critique of mechanization and the ways it can dehumanize people. The word itself derives from the Czech word “robota,” or forced labor, as done by serfs. Its Slavic linguistic root, “rab,” means “slave.” The original word for robots more accurately defines androids, then, in that they were neither metallic nor mechanical.

The contrast between robots as mechanical slaves and potentially rebellious destroyers of their human makers echoes Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein” and helps set the tone for later Western characterizations of robots as slaves straining against their lot, ready to burst out of control. The duality echoes throughout the twentieth century: Terminator, HAL 9000, Blade Runner’s replicants.

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Machine Morality and Human ResponsibilityThe New Atlantis
This year [2011] marks the ninetieth anniversary of the first performance of the play from which we get the term “robot.” The Czech playwright Karel Čapek’s R.U.R. premiered in Prague on January 25, 1921. Physically, Čapek’s robots were not the kind of things to which we now apply the term: they were biological rather than mechanical, and humanlike in appearance. But their behavior should be familiar from its echoes in later science fiction — for Čapek’s robots ultimately bring about the destruction of the human race.

Before R.U.R., artificially created anthropoids, like Frankenstein’s monster or modern versions of the Jewish legend of the golem, might have acted destructively on a small scale; but Čapek seems to have been the first to see robots as an extension of the Industrial Revolution, and hence to grant them a reach capable of global transformation. Though his robots are closer to what we now might call androids, only a pedant would refuse Čapek honors as the father of the robot apocalypse.

I hope someone’s planning a big celebration next year.

Can we not have web 1.0 back?

I do miss the early web, sometimes. Amateurish, in a good way—spontaneous, care-free, lighthearted.

The early internet, explained by one weird Celine Dion fan siteThe Atlantic
Celine Dreams was a bit of a sensation. Toroptsov never lacked for dream submissions, and at the turn of the century—before the internet was a corporatized monoculture repeated across only a handful of giant web properties—a scrappy, DIY fan site could easily build an audience by climbing up search rankings and encouraging active participation. For years, Celine Dreams appeared in the first page of Google and Yahoo search results for Celine Dion—a distinction now reserved for Celine Dion’s official website, Celine Dion’s Wikipedia page, Celine Dion’s Twitter page, Celine Dion on Spotify, and Celine Dion on YouTube.

And then it shut down, blinkering out at the same time as thousands of other fan sites. The whole ecosystem slid into the digital ocean slowly, but pretty much all at once, like a famous ship.

Nothing lasts forever. Especially nowadays.

More of these fan sites disappear all the time, and the Wayback Machine isn’t able to keep even a near-perfect record. Toroptsov’s project, and the work of his “competitors,” are vanishing in what information scientists have long been referring to as the “digital dark age.” “However widely the myth of the automatically archival Internet has spread over the past 70 years, the fact is that the system of networked computing utterly fails as a memory machine,” the UC Berkeley media researcher Abigail De Kosnik writes in her 2016 book, Rogue Archives. “The internet and computers do not constitute the greatest archive in human history, but rather the reverse.”

This applies to iconic software, too.

The last vestige of Internet Explorer dies todayGizmodo
When Microsoft decided to use EdgeHTML, it made sense. Internet Explorer had once been the biggest web browser around and consequently, lots of web page designers focused their energies on making their sites work for IE. But Chrome had a foothold when Edge launched and Microsoft’s new browser just never gained the popularity it needed. Instead, more and more web page designers focused on making the best looking sites the could—for Chrome.

Chrome uses the Blink engine and the source code originates with the open-source Chromium project. The Edge that launches today will rely on Blink and Chromium too.

Some people are clinging on, though. I’ve been reading Joanne McNeils’s newsletter for a while, now, and her website is joyously web 1.0.

joannemcneil.com
Hi, my name is Joanne McNeil and this is my Home Page on the World Wide Web. My book Lurking is out on February 25, 2020 with MCD.

underconstruction

And do you remember Noah Everyday from the 2000s? He’s back again, and doesn’t look a day older. Ok, that’s a lie. He looks older, we all do.

Man takes picture of himself every day for 20 yearsFlowingData
In 2007, Noah Kalina posted a time-lapse video showing a picture of himself every day for six years. Pop culture swallowed it up. There was even a Simpsons parody with Homer. After another six years, it was a video for twelve years’ worth of photos. Kalina has kept his everyday project going, and the above is the new time-lapse for two decades.

Noah takes a photo of himself every day for 20 yearsYouTube

Mixed messages

Here’s a breakdown of the seemingly inconsequential design decisions that led to very significant changes in how we communicate and relate to each other. Take the ‘typing indicator’, for instance…

The loss of micro-privacyMedium
The typing indicator elegantly solved what the team had set out to solve. But it also did a bit more than that. Apart from increased engagement, it also single-handedly introduced a whole new level of emotional nuance to online communication. This seemingly small detail inadvertently conveyed things no message by itself ever could. Picture this scenario:

Bob: “Hey Anna! It was so great to meet you. You’d like to go out for a drink tonight?”

Anna: “Starts typing…”

Anna: “Stops typing…”

Anna: “Starts typing again…”

Anna: “Sure!”

How convinced is Anna really? You might have experienced it yourself: the angst of prolonged typing indicators followed by a short response or even worse: nothing! Bob might have been happier if he hadn’t observed Anna’s typing pattern. But he did. And now he wonders how such a tiny animation can have such a profound impact on how he feels…

Ouch. It was so much easier in the old days. Well, perhaps it was just easier through these rose-tinted glasses, but it was certainly different, as these interviews from The Atlantic explain.

How the loss of the landline is changing family lifeThe Atlantic
“The shared family phone served as an anchor for home,” says Luke Fernandez, a visiting computer-science professor at Weber State University and a co-author of Bored, Lonely, Angry, Stupid: Feelings About Technology, From the Telegraph to Twitter. “Home is where you could be reached, and where you needed to go to pick up your messages.” With smartphones, Fernandez says, “we have gained mobility and privacy. But the value of the home has been diminished, as has its capacity to guide and monitor family behavior and perhaps bind families more closely together.”

(It reminds me of an article I found last year, about when we would have just the one shared family computer. Now everyone has their own computer on them at all times, one that they’re very reluctant to part with.)

What’s more, the calls, texts, and emails that pass through cellphones (and computers and tablets) can now be kept private from family members. “It keeps everybody separate in their own little techno-cocoons,” says Larry Rosen, a retired psychology professor at California State University at Dominguez Hills and a co-author of The Distracted Mind: Ancient Brains in a High-Tech World. Whereas early landlines united family members gathered in a single room, cellphones now silo them.

This part particularly resonated with me, as a parent of two teenagers.

Cheryl Muller, a 59-year-old artist living in Brooklyn, raised her two sons, now 30 and 27, during the transition from landline to cellphone. “I do remember the shift from calling out ‘It’s for you,’ and being aware of their friends calling, and then asking them what the call was about, to pretty much … silence,” she says. Caroline Coleman, 54, a writer in New York City whose children grew up during the same transition, recalls how at age 10 her son got a call from a man with a deep voice. “I was horrified. I asked who it was—and it was his first classmate whose voice had changed,” she said. “When you get cells, you lose that connection.”

But perhaps I needn’t worry so much.

A mobile phone for Christmas doesn’t mean less family time for teenagersThe Conversation
In a recent study, we found that talking online and texting actually strengthened friendships more than just spending time in each other’s company. Rather than neglecting relationships and encouraging insularity, having a phone meant that young people were more likely to feel connected to their friends and closer to their family.

This is particularly important for teenagers, who are at an important stage in their development. They need to make close friends and renegotiate relationships with their parents. Making friends allows teenagers to learn how to interact with others, learn more about themselves and find their own place in the world. Mobile tech allows teenagers to stay in touch with others and can help them develop closer, more supportive friendships.

Well, if you say so.

Extreme archives

That 10,000 year clock is being built in remote, mountainous west Texas, a location thought to be safe from whatever the future might have in store for us. Here’s news of another.

Microsoft apocalypse-proofs open source code in an Arctic caveBloomberg
This is the Arctic World Archive, the seed vault’s much less sexy cousin. Friedman unlocks the container door with a simple door key and, inside, deposits much of the world’s open source software code. Servers and flash drives aren’t durable enough for this purpose, so the data is encoded on what look like old-school movie reels, each weighing a few pounds and stored in a white plastic container about the size of a pizza box. It’s basically microfilm. With the help of a magnifying glass, you—or, say, a band of End Times survivors—can see the data, be it pictures, text, or lines of code.

extreme-archives-1

What starts out as a quirky vanity project/photo op for the GitHub CEO becomes to be seen, at the very end of the article, and for him personally, as a timely precaution against a world “fundamentally weirder than it was 20 years ago”.

So, farewell then, CEEFAX

Teletext was slow but it paved the way for the super-fast world of the internet
The BBC has announced that 2020 will mark the end of the Red Button text service – the final incarnation of what was originally known as CEEFAX and Oracle. Those old text-based TV services would seem ridiculously clunky and old-fashioned to an internet generation used to instant streaming and apps for everything. But – as slow and frustrating as that old text system was – it paved the way for the World Wide Web and helped prepare us for the world of social media.

A kind of internet but without social media — what could be better? It wasn’t quick though, was it?

When you fetch a web page, your browser sends a request to the server and the server sends the requested data back to you. CEEFAX, on the other hand, sent each page in turn, on a sort of endless loop. So you would put in the page number you wanted to see using your remote control, but it could take some time before that page came around again. It was a bit like waiting for your favourite sushi dish at one of those Japanese restaurants which use a conveyor belt to deliver the food, or your suitcase at an airport baggage claim.

Those were the days.

A history of urban futures

How about this for an unsettling glimpse into the future?

Hyper-reality
Hyper-Reality presents a provocative and kaleidoscopic new vision of the future, where physical and virtual realities have merged, and the city is saturated in media.

It serves as the introduction to this fantastic overview of augmented reality in urban environments.

City Skins: Scenes from an augmented urban reality
In one scene, the film’s protagonist-user (“Juliana”), becomes confused, even anxious, by a technical glitch which forces a reboot of her device while shopping for food, showing the viewer a brief glimpse of a un-augmented and totally featureless supermarket, clearly designed for the express purpose of accommodating a digital overlay. Matsuda’s film ultimately suggests that augmented reality may become so commonplace as to be essential to making sense of the world.

However futuristic it may seem, location-based augmented reality (virtual reality’s more successful but less hyped cousin) has been around for a while.

Growing interest in location-based AR projects, beginning in the late 1990s, can be in part attributed to the confluence of art and networking technologies which emerged out of the gradual popularization of the Internet and the influence of “net art.” Net art, according to critic Josephine Bosma, has often concerned itself with “the public domain as a virtual, mediated space consisting of both material and immaterial matter,” indicating a conceptual and ethical foundation for augmented reality’s radical leap from the space of the screen to a “hybrid space” mixing real and virtual elements.

Near the tail end of the 20th century, pseudonymous author and technologist Ben Russell released The Headmap Manifesto — a utopian vision of augmented reality referencing Australian aboriginal songlines and occult tomes, while pulling heavily from cybernetic theory and the Temporary Autonomous Zones of Hakim Bey. At turns both wildly hypothetical and eerily prescient, Headmap explores in-depth the implications of “location-aware” augmented reality as a kind of “parasitic architecture” affording ordinary people the chance to annotate and re-interpret their environment.

That might sound too abstract and theoretical, but here’s an example of a very real-world, poignant use of AR.

Following the release of the first iPhone and advancements in mobile phone cameras and processing power, AR began to move toward the more visually-dominant experiences we are familiar with today — in the process also opening up possibilities for more explicitly political projects. The group 4 Gentlemen, for instance, embraced AR as a tool for criticizing oppressive government policies in China. A collective of exiled Chinese artists and one American artist, 4 Gentlemen (taking their name from a group of intellectual dissidents central to the Tiananmen Student Protest in 1989) developed a series of works that digitally recreated in situ both the famous “Tank Man” image and the “Goddess of Democracy” statue — two symbols of the Tiananmen protest which have defined the struggle for democracy and human rights in China since.

urban-futures

The thrill of seeing

We take so much for granted these days, screens are everywhere, moving images are all around us. It’s hard to imagine what it must have been like before this deluge.

Our ideas about what early movies looked like are all wrong
During the first film screenings in the 1890s, viewers marvelled at moving images that had an unprecedented power to transport them to faraway places in an instant. At first, these shorts – which included glimpses of everything from Niagara Falls to elephants in India – had no narrative structure. Audiences flocked to theatres simply for the novel experience of seeing people and places, some familiar and others deeply strange, rendered lifelike and immediate before their eyes. And, as the film curator Dave Kehr explains in this video from New York City’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), the images were hardly the grainy and frantically paced footage that has become synonymous with ‘old film’ today. Rather, viewed in their original form on large screens and prior to decades of degradation, these movies were vivid and realistic. In particular, early 68mm film, which was less practical than 35mm film and thus used less frequently, delivered startlingly lifelike impressions of distant realities to early moviegoers.

The IMAX of the 1890s – how to see the first movies

It’s quite arrogant of us to dismiss those early films as merely a stepping stone to our superior technologies today. You could argue that, given the quality of these new versions and the freshness of those first audiences, these movies made more of an impact than what we see today.

the-thrill-of-seeing-2.jpg

And perhaps the same can apply to television a few decades later.

I love the idea of fake aerials. Of course, you can take a love of television too far.

Someone left old TVs outside 50 homes in Virginia while wearing a TV on his head. No one knows why.
“Everyone started coming out of their houses, walking around the neighborhood looking at the TVs there on the doorstep,” said Jeanne Brooksbank, one of the recipients, who lives in the Hampshire neighborhood. “It was very ‘Twilight Zone.’ ”

the-thrill-of-seeing-1

Listen to this, ol’ timer

Here’s an addition to the god-that-makes-me-feel-old list — the Walkman turns 40 this year. Fancy having to explain to someone what a Walkman was. Or what Napster was…

Walkman turns 40 today: How listening to music changed over the years
Though it was first invented 40 years ago, in 1979, the iconic cassette tape player defined the decade when legwarmers weren’t part of costumes and Reaganomics ruled the land. It was the first device that allowed listeners to take music with them on the go (hence, the name).

Since then, we’ve evolved to CDs, iPods, and the current age of streaming services like Spotify and Apple Music. It’s easy to forget how revolutionary the Walkman was for its time, and that it marked a pivotal moment in the nearly 150-year-old history of recorded music.

With that in mind, here’s a look at how we’ve listened to music through the years — from the 1800s to today.

There are some great photos here. We’ve certainly gone through a number of formats here. I wonder what’s next.

listen-to-this-1
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The original selfie machine

You’d think they had had their day, but photo booths are still going strong, as this recent Quartz Obsession round-up shows. But first, some highlights from its long history.

Photo booths
1890: The Bosco Automat, an early automated photo machine requiring a human operator, debuts at the First International Exposition of Amateur Photography.

1900: Eastman Kodak debuts the Brownie camera with a price point of just $1.

1925: The first curtain-enclosed booth costs users 25 cents for a strip of 8 photos.

1929: Surrealist René Magritte uses the new technology for his work Je ne vois pas la cachée dans la forêt (“I do not see the woman in the forest”).

1930s: Bluesman Robert Johnson takes a photo booth self-portrait; when he becomes a posthumous legend, it’s made into a US postage stamp.

1953: John and Jackie Kennedy step into a photo booth during their honeymoon.

1963-1966: Andy Warhol manipulates hundreds of photo booth images into silkscreen images.

1993: Photo-Me offers the first digital photo booth.

1995: Video game company Sega introduces a photo machine that prints stickers, launching the purikura selfie trend in Japan.

2015: Photo Booth Expo launches in Las Vegas with 1,200 attendees. In 2019, expo attendance topped 4,000.

It seems smartphones are fully ubiquitous now and Instgram accounts are practically compulsory, but the photo booth is still here, for a new audience.

While the OG photo booth certainly has its charms, we’ve come a long way since the days of black-and-white photography and eight-minute processing times. Purikura is a Japanese photo booth experience that allows users to pick music for their photo shoots, choose lighting, enhance the photo by drawing on it, add digital backgrounds, retouch, and more.

Japanese Photo Sticker Booths: Purikura Adventure
Forget the selfie! It’s time to discover the Japanese Purikura Photo Sticker Booths. It’s hard to compete with the almighty smart phone these days, but the purikura “print club” booths have evolved into a US$50M a year industry and a place were one can be beamed into the professional model fantasy world – if only for 10 minutes.