- By Joshua Keating
Joshua Keating was an associate editor at Foreign Policy
The France-only precursor to the Internet finally met its demise with the push of a button on Saturday, the New York Times reported. The only people really upset about it seem to be dairy farmers:
The Minitel, the once-revolutionary online service that prefigured the Internet in the early 1980s, allowed the French to search a national phone registry, buy clothing and train tickets, make restaurant reservations, read newspapers or exchange electronic messages more than a decade before similar services existed almost anywhere else in the world. The network is now largely relegated to the realm of nostalgia, though, with its dial-up connection, black-and-white screen and text that scrolls out one pixelated character at a time.
Conceived in France, by the French, for the French — efforts to export the technology met with little success — the Minitel was long ago overtaken by the borderless, freewheeling Internet. It has remained in service, though, and it still has its devotees, including about 2,500 dairy farmers in Brittany who rely on it to call for the inseminator when a cow is in heat or to request that the authorities come to haul away animal carcasses.[…]
“Computers are all right, too, but it’s not the same,” said Mr. Denais, 47, who raises 165 dairy cattle on 300 rolling acres here, just west of Rennes, the regional capital. “I’m not very ‘Internet.’ ”
Such now commonplace activities as e-banking, online education, and cybersex all made their debut on Minitel before they were ever available on the Internet.
One of the more striking aspects here may actually be that an article about the development of the Internet includes the phrase, “historians say.”
(Pictured: Then French Treasury Director, later European Central Bank President Jean-Claude Trichet with a Minitel machine in 1989.)