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Into It

Into It: Minitels


France Telecom recently announced their intentions to pull the plug on what has been the communications hub of French homes since the early ‘80s. Minitel terminals, which resemble antiquated Apple computers, will become the latest old-world victim of technology’s forward rush.

But this text-based, modem-dialing machine hasn’t gone without a fight. In the ‘90s, while Americans stocked up on personal computers and moved online, France stayed the technological course with the Minitel’s simple text interface, and not without reason.

With a few clicks and clacks of a Minitel keyboard, users can tap into an electronic phone book, make secure bank transactions, or book a train ticket. It has proven a reliable tool and created profit with everything from battleship video games to adult services. Crafty users have found ways to chat first through dialogue boxes of video games and eventually some of the first commercial chat rooms.

The Internet has long threatened to wipe out these plastic workhorses, but their time has finally come. Minitels, despite their charm, are blocky and industrial. They will be neatly stacked in closets, gingerly tucked under beds, and collect dust with dignity. Soon, within a year, the Minitels of France will pass the buck and power down for good.

Music by (the French group) Air. “Modular Mix” from Premiers Symptomes