Decline of the cybercafés

Paris, like most cities, had a large assortment of internet cafés for about ten to fifteen years, around the turn of the millennium. The newspaper Le Monde, in an article published in 2015, spoke of “the golden age of the cybercafés” as lasting from 1995 to 2005. Since then, “customers have become increasingly rare” in an age when “the vast majority of homes are now connected to the Internet, when free Wi-Fi has invaded bars, libraries, parks and fast food restaurants.”

My lead photo (above) is from May 2013 and shows the ‘Milk’ cybercafé at 5 rue d’Odessa in Montparnasse, which at that time was still in operation with sixty computers available 24/7. A Vélib’ bicycle station, number 14127, was conveniently located directly in front of this webcafé. Now (as of 2022) the webcafé has long since disappeared, replaced by a clothing store, but the Vélib’ station is still there.

‘Milk’ on rue Soufflot in 2011

The last Paris webcafé that I can recall using was this one on rue Soufflot, the street leading up to the Panthéon in the Latin Quarter. This was one of the larger ‘Milk’ webcafés, with one hundred computers. Ninety-seven of them had French keyboards, but the other three (the ones that are visible in the front window) had English keyboards, which are much more convenient for us non-French people.

Actually, I’m accustomed to using a German keyboard, but the differences between the German and English ones are minimal: the x and y are reversed and the punctuation marks are in different places, and some symbols like @ are on different keys. But that’s nothing compared to the muddle I get into when I try to use a French keyboard.

Blogger Juliet Young, in her highly readable memoir An Accidental Parisian, has a funny chapter (funny only in retrospect) about how she once had to take a typing test when applying for a job in Paris and messed it up completely because of the French keyboard.

Former ‘Milk’ cybercafé already boarded up in 2012

Although the ‘Milk’ cybercafé on rue Soufflot still seemed to be thriving in 2011, a year later it was already boarded up. As of 2022, there is at least one ‘Milk’ cybercafé still in operation in Paris, but its ambience is entirely different as it is devoted almost entirely to gaming.

Hole-in-the-wall telephone shops on Avenue Jean Jaurès, 2012

For those who still need a place to go online, most of the many hole-in-the-wall telephone shops in Paris still have a computer or two hooked up which can be used by customers for a small fee. But they make their money through other services, such as selling and repairing mobile phones and accessories, as well as printing (most people now carry smartphones but not printers) and arranging cheap phone calls to Africa. These small phone shops are typically one-man operations with (in my experience) extraordinarily competent and friendly service, where every square centimeter of space in the tiny shop is put to optimal use.

The last time I used one of these hole-in-the-wall telephone shops was in 2018, when I managed to lock myself out of my smartphone (don’t ask) and needed a new SIM card to get back in. (SIM = subscriber identity module.) So for a few days I had a French phone number, and I still have a French SIM card which I sometimes remember to take with me as a backup when I travel.

My photos in this post are from 2011, 2012 and 2013. I revised the text in 2022.

See also: An old-timey internet café in Antwerp and Internet points in Verona.

12 thoughts on “Decline of the cybercafés”

  1. I’ve never used an Internet café. I would think they’re still useful but not necessarily for travelers—more for people who don’t want to invest in a computer or smartphone.

  2. Ooh, I think I went to a cybercafé on one of my travels, although I can’t remember which destination I was in…it was to print some flight tickets, and I remember being so confused navigating the café, as I had never heard of it before and had never been inside one! Guess I’m part of the generation which grew up exclusively on the Internet at home, school, and just about everywhere I go, so to pay a visit to a cybercafé (literally speaking) was a novel experience for me.

  3. I’ve not used an internet cafe in Europe that I can remember, but in the 2000-2004 time frame, I used them a lot in the Bahamas when we were traveling on our boat and in Key West when we were down there by car staying in a trailer on base. I always brought my own computer if I could because it had my passwords etc on it. I have had to use computer rooms in hotels in Ireland in 2007, but I don’t know if that counts.

  4. It’s true, cybercafés are relics of the past, however co-working spaces thrive. And I think they’re a great idea; it can get lonely working alone at home. Thanks for the “shout out” (as Americans say) regarding my book, Don. I see you have a post about an old-timey internet café in Antwerp. I’m going there mid-December! Can’t wait. Taking the beautiful Thalys train direct from Paris. Do you know Thalys?
    I was in Antwerp in 2013 and haven’t been back since.

  5. Yes, how interesting when things move on and we barely realise. In our early days of adventurous travel, we would occasionally slip into a cyber cafe to book flights or research and book our next bed. And, as you say, print the bookings. Of course, we no longer need to print any bookings anyway, so even that call at a cyber cafe is no longer needed. Like all of us, I’m not a 100% fan of the internet and the changes it’s brought, but as travellers it’s made life a lot easier!

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