France says adieu to its pre-internet device
France is bidding farewell to its internet predecessor three decades after it was first launched.
Minitel, which was first introduced to the nation in 1982, was a groundbreaking service that brought, in effect, online banking and online travel to French citizens, setting them apart from the rest of the world.
Similar to a computer, the diminutive terminal was attached to a telephone, allowing its users to access services in a way that was unheard of until the modern-day internet came into fruition.
It also allowed its users – some nine million sets were installed across the country – to chat in a novel and instant way. After all, mobile phones and texting were still more than a decade away. It was still normal to write letters.
However, over the years, the service has become relegated to the “digital bench”, with broadband boosting the clout of the internet. It has simply become too costly to maintain with little return on investment.
Speaking to the BBC, Gary Jermyn, who was finance director for an initiative to introduce Minitel to Ireland in the nineties, agreed that the internet represented the end of this charming and pioneering service.
“Minitel wasn’t an open platform,” he went on to say. “It only provided Minitel services, which was quickly going out-of-date as a model. Also by the early 1990s the terminal itself was the clunkiest piece of desk manure you could imagine. It was embarrassing.”
Brits moving overseas have been told that the device is considered one of the country’s greatest ever telecommunications innovations, and many of its countrymen, especially those who were au fait with Minitel, hold it dear to their heart.
“People forget that many of the ideas that helped form the internet were first of all tried out on Minitel,” Valerie Schafer, co-author of a recent book on Minitel, told the BBC.
“Think of the payment system, not so different from the Apple app-store. Think of the forums, the user-generated content. Many of today’s web entrepreneurs and thinkers cut their teeth on Minitel.”
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