Tim Key: I'm in an internet café. It's not as exciting as it used to be

 

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The Independent Online

I am in an internet café. It's strange being in one of these. I'd forgotten they existed. But I'm delighted that they still do. I've just had one of those mornings you get sometimes when you're a columnist for The Independent. I found myself sans laptop and waddling between Prets, when it suddenly struck me – "I HAVEN'T FILED". I stopped sipping my apple juice and started slapping my forehead as hard as I could. My bloody deadline was upon me! I needed a keyboard and an internet connection fast or I'd have to lie about being ill, or invent something about having a lot on my mind. I swapped hands and continued to slap my forehead, and also tried to work out what to do next.

It's not nice being a columnist without a laptop. Like a swimmer without his Speedos, you feel naked. I looked at my options. I could scribble something longhand and pay a maniac to courier it to The Independent's offices. Or I could write it in a series of texts and drip-feed them to my editor one by one. Neither method seemed satisfactory. I didn't particularly like the idea of my column weaving through traffic or arriving in fragments – then what? It was then that I spied an 'Internet Café' sign, swinging coquettishly in the breeze. It had been a while since I had considered this prospect, but boy, was I delighted to welcome it back into my life.

I've paid my 50p for half an hour and now I'm sat at a 15-year-old computer, simultaneously bathing merrily in a wash of Nineties nostalgia, and also hammering out my column.

And it does feel like hammering. My device is so old that it feels like it has more in common with a typewriter than the svelte keyboards we're used to these days. To make any letter come up on your screen you really have to give the key a whack. And you have to come down on it near enough vertically or you'll get nowhere. So it takes time. Strike a letter, pull back, stretch, click knuckles, hover over next target and WHACK. Back at home, on my slimline Apple Mac, I type like a virtuoso pianist, gliding over the keys and creating an easy slew of words on the screen. This is slow. Just select short words, though, and don't waste time thinking.

I used to frequent internet cafés a lot back in the day. I remember them feeling quite futuristic. Using an internet café when they first arrived, you felt like a pioneer. You slipped away from the road and into a land of opportunity, a zone where you could, for the first time, connect with anyone, anywhere, in the whole universe. It was quite dramatic. I could simultaneously glug a mocha and also receive an email from a Mexican. It was a real buzz. Bizarre, then, that the feeling now is quite the reverse. Sitting in this internet café I feel like I've somehow fallen out of technology's runaway train, and tumbled down the embankment. I'm sat in the dark ages. On a plastic chair. The computer screen and the keyboard are separate. There is a mousemat.

And no coffee!

The flirtatious sign outside seduced me with the word 'Café' but in here, there's no such liquid. For 'Internet Café', read 'Internet Room'. The set-up is this: a normalish shop selling pens etc, and then a bank of fairly cheap DVDs, mainly of films that were popular when internet cafés first came into existence: Point Break, Twister, Stargate. And then beyond the DVDs this dark space. Five computers. Three empty, one being operated by a Norwegian-looking man in a bobble hat, and then me. Finishing off my column.

I'll do a word count and save to desktop. Then I'll open the internet up, see what this 'café' is capable of. Purchase Boogie Nights. Then find a Starbucks.

After all this time in an internet café, I am gasping for a coffee.

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