Internet, Minitel and the Advent of the Hot Air Balloon

Internet, Minitel and the Advent of the Hot Air Balloon by Jean Benoit Nadeau publish in  ICWA Letters February 2000

Since 1925 the Institute of Current World Affairs (the Crane Rogers Foundation) has provided long-term fellowships to enable outstanding young professionals to live outside the United States of America.

Jean Benoit Nadeau : A French-Canadian journalist and playwright, Jean Benoit studied drama at the National Theater School in Montreal, the n received a B.A. from McGill University in Political Science and History. The holder of several Canadian magazine and investigative-journalism awards, he is spending his ICWA-fellowship years in France studying « the resistance of the French to the trend of economic and cultural globalization. »

He wrote in his  report :

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<< Minitel and Internet are all telematics. Oppposing both is just one big musunderstanding » says reporter Michel Puech

Late in my resarch for this newsletter, I came across MIchel Puech, one of France’s best-informed journalists on Internet and Minitel. In the 1980s, before becoming partly blind, Michel ran a photo agency and got interested in interactive technology as the best way to sell pictures and text. He began to research the question, first as a dilettante, later out of professionnal interst. Arout 1986 he discovered that he could plus in his home computer on-line, in parallel to his Minitel. He bagan roaming cyberspace under the codename of Tcherno. To him both Minitel and Internet had merits and flaws, but he saw the makings of what he calls the Big Misunderstanding. He even played a part in it.

The story begins in 1989. One days a young American showed up at the meeting place of a small association of French on-line journalists, to which Michel belonged. The young American was doing his Masters thesis on interactive journalism and had some questions to ask. Naturally, this flattered the people present, whom colleagues of the established press generally snubbed.

That an  American was interested in them was proof of something. For months, the young man asked questions about dat procesing and learned about such things as a « serch engine », « service providers » and « electronic hightway » – things that were familiar to the French back in those years. Then the young Amercan went home. His name was David Lytel.

Michel saw him once more in 1994, after Lytel had become Vice President Al Gore’sadviser on the information highway. It was at a product démonstration in the basement of a bank near the Arc de de Triomphe, where 150 Minitel entrepreneurs and somee journalists had been invited – Michel among them. The product being show-cased was Netscape, a new search engine that would revolutionize the Internet. In fact, without Netscape, Internet would have remained the kingdom of technogeeks, scholars and technies, and would nerver have invaded maintastream culture.David Lytel was there as keynote speaker.

It was a slcik presentation, American style, and the general tone was « Lo and Behold! Amerca Cometh! ». The host said :

« Let’s find a pizzeria in Santa Monica and order a Large Pepperoni »

« Yeah, sure, right, like on Minitel » yelled Michel from the back of the room.

An operato fidded until he got the corder in Then the host said :

 » It’s my mother’birthday, let’s get a bouquet for her in Santa Barbara… »

« Yeah, sure right! Like on Minitel » yelled a dozen voices.

Then the host expressed the desire to write an E-mail to his mother. This time, the entire room chanted :

« Yeah, sure, right! Like on Minitel »

The demonstration stopped soon after when the powerful Sun computer crashed.

« Unlike Minitel! » laughed the crowd.

After the présentation, David Lytel came on stage for his speech. During the question period. Michel Puech made his presence known, using his code name.

« David, this is Tcherno. Why don’t you say to these men that they are the ones who invented alle of this? »

At the end of the presentation, Michel Puech was making his way out in the crowd, when David Lytel tepped in front of him with bodyguards on each side.

« Tcherno. I should have been warmed earlier »

« That’s alright David. I understand. But telle me, what happened with uour thesis? »

 » Welle, Michel, I’ll tell you : I was on a mission… »

…./….

 

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