A2 Production: Minitel Services

Assignment 2

Production: Minitel Services

In their account of Minitel, Julien Mailland and Kevin Driscoll describe encountering an “uneven archive” of historical materials that makes it very difficult to piece together the experience of using the various services that would have been available to users in the 1980s and 1990s. Much of what made the French national network a vibrant cultural, entrepreneurial, and commercial space is now lost, with sites that can be accessed appearing as ghost towns in an abandoned infrastructure.

Most of the activity on Minitel was ephemeral. We have few records of the endless chats that took place on messageries, nor of the countless conferences, databases, and videotex pages that were published on the network. There is no surviving system to explore, no vestigial messageries to long on to. Minitel ended with finality in 2012, but the liveliest social systems had already faded away many years before. There is no way to emulate or simulate the experience of hanging out at home alone, dialing 3615, and flirting with strangers all night on a messagerie as we might have done back in 1987.

Julien Mailland and Kevin Driscoll, Minitel: Welcome to the Internet (MIT Press, 2017), pp. 17–18.

Nevertheless, Mailland and Driscoll were able to pull together a collection of surviving devices and documents to provide a robust account of the network, and more materials remain to be explored. For the second blog assignment, we will be adding to this historical archive by investigating the individual services that Minitel offered.

The area of the circuit of culture that will concern us is production. Little information is available about the consumers of Minitel services, how they used the network, how they felt about their encounters, and what identities formed in their interactions. But a window into the historical uses of Minitel opens up by looking into who produced the services and how they embedded certain cultural practices into the design of their services.

Using Minitel: Welcome to the Internet as background, search for an individual service identified by its dial number and code. Examples from Minitel rose can be found in the image above, such as 3615 DALLAS and 3615 COJEU. To help you find a service, I’ve compiled a short list I was able to find from available images and directories:

  • 3617 ANNU
  • 3617 VERIF
  • 3615 ACADEMIA
  • 3615 ALINE
  • 3617 FLOPPY
  • 3617 SIRENE
  • 3615 MGS
  • 3615 LUSO
  • 3615 MAGELLAN
  • 3617 IMMOPRET
  • 3615 CQG
  • 3617 CADREMPLOI
  • 3617 EURIDILE
  • 3617 PAGES
  • 3617 PRONO
  • 3615 DISC
  • 3615 CINELIBE
  • 3615 VIDEOLASER
  • 3617 ELECTRA
  • 3615 YAHOO
  • 3615 MCM
  • 3615 ENGREVE
  • 3615 ITI
  • 3615 ARGUS
  • 3615 MICHELIN
  • 3615 GENEAL
  • 3615 ULLA
  • 3615 MADAME IRMA
  • Also check out the Minitel Research Lab, a website by Mailland and Driscoll with resources that can help you get started.

But you should feel encouraged to explore and find your own. There are certainly lots of examples from Minitel rose that can be found from a simple Minitel image search, and a search for “Minitel” and “3615” or “3617” will yield results beyond simply chat lines and sex lines.

Once you’ve found a service, search for newspaper and magazine articles from the time period when the service was active. Here are some helpful databases to help you find relevant newspaper articles:

You should cite two stories, while providing identifying information in the flow of your discussion: name of newspaper or magazine, date of issue, author, and name of story where applicable. If you can link to a freely available web resource, please do, but if it’s behind a proxy, the information above will suffice.

In all likelihood, a majority of the articles you’ll find will be in French, but some will certainly be in English, as Minitel was promoted widely to drive adoption. Don’t let a scarcity of materials in English prevent you from working with the service of your choice. For our purposes, paraphrasing the information you can glean from Google Translate is more than satisfactory. Most articles will be simple and informational.

Checklist

  1. Choose one Minitel service, identified by its dial number and code, such as 3617 PAGES or 3615 DISC. Claim your service on Piazza.
  2. Explain who produced the service.
  3. Cite two historical newspaper or magazine articles that covered the Minitel service, such as can be found on Proquest or LexisNexis.
  4. Provide links to resources where applicable.
  5. Credit images where possible by providing a caption.

Submitting Assignments

All assignments should be submitted as text documents on Blackboard and to the blog on the course site. For further instructions on posting to the blog, check out this explainer.

Due September 24 by 5:00 p.m. EST.