Julien Mailland and Kevin Driscoll– Minitel: Welcome to the Internet


The MIT Press, ISBN-13: 978-3837633559, English, 240 pages, 2017, USA

The Minitel has been unique in testing the impact of online technologies on a whole country before the “public” Internet. This videotext service debuted in 1983 in France under the control of the French Postal Authority (PTT) and rapidly proliferated as a result of a policy which included giving free terminals to citizens. This book is a scrupulous account, reporting both the advanced technology of the time (the network, the peripheral equipment, the software), but also the social, economic and cultural ones, from the popular sexy chats (“Minitel Rose”) to home automation, to street protest organisation. It rapidly evolved over its first decade, being another case of a widespread network outside the internet revolution. Mailland has reconstructed its history with a clever strategy, highlighting the pioneering aspects of the whole platform from a contemporary perspective, but leaving the context intact. She manages to prove how its state-based infrastructure was kept “open and neutral”, in order to guarantee public interest. Historically we’d note that the Minitel debuted in the same year of the major Electra exhibition curated by Frank Popper, and only two years before the seminal Les Immateriaux exhibition at the Centre Pompidou, co-curated by Jean-François Lyotard. And while in France there are still artists exploiting its retro-futurist aesthetics, this book helps to finally share its knowledge to non-French speaking countries.

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