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CARLA: Maybe they told him those things because he was Brigitte or the 19-year-old bisexual co-ed.But it was also probably because they were reveling in the newfound anonymity of typing from behind a screen, said Jean Marc.So he tried to incorporate his own unique world view, his artisan, cyber-feministe politics into every aspect of the job, even the identities that he chose to inhabit as a woman.JEAN-MARC: On one Minitel I was a 56-year-old woman, on another I was a 35-year-old woman named Brigitte, and on the other I was a 19-year-old bisexual student.In the early 80’s, way before the world wide web existed, the French government shipped a 0 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.Our theme song and episode music is by Breakmaster Cylinder. The New York Times on the death of the Minitel Jean Marc Manach on The Minitel (in French) Squarespace Framebridge [THEME] ALEX GOLDMAN: So PJ, you are not…much younger than me, but younger enough that you come from like a different internet generation than I do. ALEX: When I started using the internet it was like ‘91, ‘92 and it was sort of before the world wide web. PJ: I felt like so lonely and also I was like “yeah, I understand that.” ALEX: Wait, once she said that, did you realize what was happening? PJ: Don’t you also feel like we both had kind of typical experiences early on. When you wanted to use it, you plugged it into the telephone line, meaning you couldn’t use the phone at the same time. Here’s a French newscast from the Minitel launch: NEWSCASTER: Now, we’re going to talk about something that’s relevant to you, or at least, will be relevant to you very soon, in your daily life.CARLA: During the day, the boss would breathe over the animatrices’ shoulders, pressuring them to finish up with each partner more quickly so they could move onto the next.Being romantic – or engaging in anything that would slow them down, really – was strictly forbidden. But he was – in his words – un artisan – a budding cyber-féministe.
And I wondered if the people I’d been talking with all night were there, among the commuters, right in front of me.Animatrice is the feminine form of a frustratingly un-translatable word. And somehow, it also came to mean what Jean Marc did with his nights for a couple of months in the mid-nineties.Jean Marc worked on the seventeenth floor of a tall building in Paris.That anonymity revealed an intimate side of people he’d never really seen before.JEAN-MARC: I got a lot of people who were suicidal – there were even a couple of women, young women, who were really freaking out.