Minitel was a service in France that offered access to a network for various services. Each subscriber was provided with a terminal which could be used to call into services. This telephone network system was essentially the prerequisite to the modern-day internet, with its available services akin to the variety of websites and applications available today. Likewise, the cultural practices embedded into Minitel services revealed what trends were pervasive and could come into fruition through a primitive internet
3615 ALINE was one of Minitel’s most popular offerings. When users dialed in 3615 ALINE into their terminals, upon coming up with a pseudonym and providing a CV, they were able to chat with other users anonymously for a hefty fee of 100 francs per hour (approximately $36 USD today). Ultimately, this eventually became advertised as a dating service, as it was primarily used by those in search of a partner or those who wanted to exchange explicit sexual messages.
ALINE was one of the many sexually explicit services, such as chat rooms, dating platforms, and pornography, offered through Minitel that were locally known as Minitel rose, or Pink Minitel. Although Minitel rose was only one sector of the many offered by Minitel, it was certainly the most conspicuous, as their overt and raunchy advertisements and billboards lined Paris, to the shock of many civilians.
As prominent as their advertisements were, pink services were also widely adopted across French society, and surprisingly offered by traditional institutions such as telephone companies and newspapers. 3615 ALINE itself was offered by Le Nouvel Observateur, a popular newsprint magazine. Under the leadership of entrepreneur Henri de Maublanc, ALINE eventually became Le Nouvel Observateur’s biggest profit maker with a totaled average of 200,000 hours a month of users logged on in 1987.
One account from the Washington Post in 1986 from a 40-year-old Minitel user whose Aline pseudonym was “Dentist” reported “It’s a great way of relieving your sexual fantasies,” and that he spent at least an hour a day chatting. “It looks really impressive. Patients think I am working on a computer,” he claimed, as he would find moments between his appointments to chat.
ALINE, along with other pink chat services, were not necessarily started with the intention of being used in a sexual manner, but naturally the fix for loneliness was accompanied by the satiation of sexual desires, and the resulting revenue generated was undoubtedly welcomed by the institutions that profited. Despite how pink services could have tainted the reputations of the established institutions that offered them, the lucrativeness of these services was irresistible. Additionally, involvement in pink services and Minitel in general speaks to the demands of an increasingly globalized society, in which institutions must adapt in order to stay relevant and fit the changing demands of patrons.
For Le Nouvel Observateur this meant providing users with an escape from the mundanity and loneliness of everyday life through ALINE. The need for sexual gratification and shift in more liberal views of sex was thus openly embraced by Le Nouvel Observateur, as they embedded these values into the foundation of ALINE.
As much as users relished in finding company online, it was not always genuine. Service providers further embedded the desire for sex into the purpose of their services by hiring animateurs to pass as actual users to keep real users chatting for as long as possible. Often these were young men in college who would pass as women and could carry multiple conversations at once. A well-known animateur, “Koka” reported that he would keep clients on the line for up to four hours a day by exchanging romantic fantasies. However, the accounts of “Koka” and other animateurs revealed the troublesome reality that was brought out by services like ALINE. “Koka” stated that “It was fun in the beginning, but it wears you down after a while. You come across real weirdos, people who’ve gone round the bend, who can’t stand their loneliness.” Another animateur acknowledged that “At the end of the day, those encounters were pretty sad, because they reflected our times: everything is communicated, but there is not physical touch.”
ALINE revealed that with the coming of the internet, cultural phenomena and trends could quickly permeate through society. Openness with sex, liberation from the confines of a modest society, and the ability to meet and connect with people were all values that were not only embraced by ALINE, but also promoted as a response to the desires of users. The popularity of services like ALINE revealed that the increasing globalization, automation, and use of technology in the world brought about a sense of anomie in civilians. This unease was expressed by users as well. When asked about ALINE, a user with the pseudonym “Moi” confessed “We pay exorbitant fees just because our society is unable to provide communication on a person-to-person basis. These are my very last moments on this diabolical machine.” While ALINE provided users with a band-aid for their disillusionment, ultimately the cure could not be found through any Minitel service.
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