Low-Tech and the French technology complex
Have you ever heard of the “Minitel”? Probably never in a regular French language course. No, it is not a small telephone. It is one of those pieces of engineering that can only come from France, just like the Citroën DS, or … the guillotine.
Where would you learn this if not in a French language course in France? OK, maybe on Wikipedia, but that’s not the point.
The Minitel was basically the closest ancestor of what is the internet today. Developed in the early eighties in France, it was found in almost every household in French families and was a staple of French tech culture starting from 1982 and reached its peak of popularity in the nineties.
Basically it could do almost everything the internet can do today, in a much different way, meaning, in a very slower way.
It came as a squared box with a keyboard that would fold over the black and white screen it used to show the information you needed, and it just required to be plugged into any phone line.
The first thing this piece of antique technology could do was replacing the white and yellow pages to find any phone number, but its range of services started to spread as companies started to see the benefits of offering their own services: TV channels, “online” shopping, administrations turned it to the first “computer” that many families in France had access to.
It symbolized what France could build in terms of technology. The 3615 (the number you dialed to access those services) became almost a sign of recognition of a generation that grew up with the Minitel.
Moreover, it is also a sign of what France couldn’t overcome. The growing tech pressure from the U.S. on one side, and from Asia on the other made the Minitel totally obsolete.
Since then, the French tech industry is trying to come back on the front of the tech scene. But some may think that maybe France is at its best when it goes low-tech, and focuses on its forces. No wonder why when in the U.S. the strongest companies are Apple, Microsoft, Google and Facebook, in France, the front runners are among the luxury industry.