Minitel


It was slow and clunky, but it worked and that's all that mattered:
Combining a monitor, keyboard, and modem all in one beige plastic package, the Minitel terminal — known as the "Little French Box" — was once a common sight in French households. With it, writes Julien Mailland in the Atlantic, "one could read the news, engage in multi-player interactive gaming, grocery shop for same-day delivery, submit natural language requests like 'reserve theater tickets in Paris,' purchase said tickets using a credit card, remotely control thermostats and other home appliances, manage a bank account, chat, and date." All this at a time when, as Schofield puts it, "the rest of us were being put on hold by the bank manager or queueing for tickets at the station." And what's more, the French got their Minitel terminals for free.
In order for regular Americans to get on the Internet in the 1990s, they had to have a computer with a modem and a phone line. By the time you got all of that lined up, you had to pay for access and that meant about $25 a month to someone like America Online.

I kind of like the French idea better.

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