In the early 80’s, way before the world wide web existed, the French government shipped a 0 terminal to every home with a phone line, and created a service that for decades ran alongside the internet. Producer Carla Green speaks to reporter Jean-Marc Manach, who, in the early 90’s, made a living posing as a woman in sex chat rooms on Minitel. ALEX: I think that you think that you…you’re like a way more popular and sociable and friendly than I am. It’s about the back-in-the-day internet in France, which is, in some ways, very similar to the back-in-the-day internet me and PJ experienced but, in a lot of ways, much weirder. CARLA GREEN: In 1982 France’s national telephone company – France Télécom – decided it was spending too much money printing phonebooks. It was an ungainly, clumsy piece of technology, just a little CRT monitor with a keyboard.
Our theme song and episode music is by Breakmaster Cylinder. The New York Times on the death of the Minitel Jean Marc Manach on The Minitel (in French) Squarespace Framebridge [THEME] ALEX GOLDMAN: So PJ, you are not…much younger than me, but younger enough that you come from like a different internet generation than I do. ALEX: When I started using the internet it was like ‘91, ‘92 and it was sort of before the world wide web. PJ: I felt like so lonely and also I was like “yeah, I understand that.” ALEX: Wait, once she said that, did you realize what was happening? PJ: Don’t you also feel like we both had kind of typical experiences early on. When you wanted to use it, you plugged it into the telephone line, meaning you couldn’t use the phone at the same time. Here’s a French newscast from the Minitel launch: NEWSCASTER: Now, we’re going to talk about something that’s relevant to you, or at least, will be relevant to you very soon, in your daily life.
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I would dial in to a local bulletin board there was…four phone lines and I would just get hours and hours of busy signals while everyone desperately jockeyed for one of those four phonelines and then I would connect and then my dad would get call waiting and fifteen minutes later I would get bumped off which was unbelievably frustrating. PJ: I have a memory of going into a chat room and talking to some adult woman who…I guess she was flirting with me but I didn’t understand flirting and she was like “hey, do you want to talk in a private chat room? PJ: I realized that I disappointed her in some way but it took me a long time to figure out how and why. Like, mine was lonely and alienated and yours was pop culture, weird stuff? It was unveiled yesterday by the Minister of Telecommunications, it was – the electronic phonebook! You could look up phone numbers and addresses – banking information, the weather, stock prices, things like that.PJ: Wait and also when you started going on the internet wasn’t it like…you could log onto a bulletin board and only you could be on it and you’d leave a message and somebody else would go on it. Which meant that I could talk to Americans from anywhere in the world…uh…who had gotten a disk in the magazine. ” and I was like yeah and she said age, sex, location and I was like “12 years old, male, Haverford” and she was like “I got bigger fish to fry.” And then she logged off. ALEX: When I first connected, my first conversation was with an Iraq war vet about the band Black Flag. ALEX: When you say typical, you mean like typical of us as human beings? ALEX: I think you give yourself too much credit as a lonely, alienated person. The Minitel charged by the the minute, and each minute could cost anywhere from 50 cents to a dollar or more.In a couple cases, we did evidence use of that app, he said Monday.We have encountered that app being used in certain cases.The phone call came into the newsroom the day after 14 men were nabbed on child pornography charges in a statewide sting.
Sounding childish and creepy at times, the man admitted Friday to previously being charged with possession of child porn and endangering the welfare of a child.
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But what the Minitel lacked, crucially, was a feature so integral to today’s internet that sometimes we don’t even notice it. So not long after its release – a teenager who was never identified, as the story goes – hacked the Minitel and added a messaging feature. And since they liked it, usage of the Minitel increased. So France Telecom integrated chatrooms into the Minitel’s design.