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In the early 80’s, way before the world wide web existed, the French government shipped a $200 terminal to every home with a phone line, and created a service that for decades ran alongside the internet. Producer Carla Green speaks to reporter Jean-Marc Manach, who, in the early 90’s, made a living posing as a woman in sex chat rooms on Minitel. ALEX: I think that you think that you…you’re like a way more popular and sociable and friendly than I am. It’s about the back-in-the-day internet in France, which is, in some ways, very similar to the back-in-the-day internet me and PJ experienced but, in a lot of ways, much weirder. CARLA GREEN: In 1982 France’s national telephone company – France Télécom – decided it was spending too much money printing phonebooks. It was an ungainly, clumsy piece of technology, just a little CRT monitor with a keyboard.
They were called Minitel rose – French for “Pink Minitel”.I think I started around , and I would leave around five or six AM to go sleep.And I’d run into all these people waking up, going to work, and I’d just spent the night talking about sex with people all over the bizarre-to-normal spectrum.There was such a disconnect between me and the commuters, who were half-asleep.And I wondered if the people I’d been talking with all night were there, among the commuters, right in front of me.During the daytime, the room would be full of animatrices – fifteen or twenty at a time. Jean Marc preferred to work nights, when he was often alone. Jean Marc’s English isn’t great, so we did the rest of the interview in French.
There was a great view of Paris from the office building he worked in, and it was quiet. JEAN-MARC: I ate beforehand, because it was hard to eat when you’re on four Minitels at once. I think I filled up a bottle of water, I’d turn on the Minitels and log onto the forums, and then I was off for the whole night…
JEAN-MARC: People told me things that they’d never told anyone, and other things that they never would’ve told a man. They trusted me with their secrets – their sexual fantasies, their fears, their life dramas.
There were people who were genuinely traumatized who told me about their trauma.
JEAN-MARC: I liked refusing to only be blonde girls with giant breasts.
CARLA: And being a cyber-feministe also meant that Jean Marc insisted on pushing past the verbal abuse that most men used to open the conversation.
CARLA: Maybe they told him those things because he was Brigitte or the 19-year-old bisexual co-ed.