Steve Jobs got his inspiration from the French? The French?

A report suggests that the minute Steve Jobs saw France's chunky, clunky Minitel, he took it apart in order to see how it worked. And then the Mac was born. Perhaps.

"Yes, I owe it all to the French."

We are all guided by our influences, even if sometimes we don't want to admit who they really are.

Just as Mark Zuckerberg would never admit to being moved by Dr. Ruth and Genghis Khan, so Larry Page would surely never concede to the subconscious influence of "Mork and Mindy" and the early novels of John Le Carre.

However, a Reuters report is now suggesting something so beautifully preposterous, so life-affirmingly unnatural that it will lift the spirits of the most downhearted.

For this report claims that Steve Jobs was influenced by the French. Yes, the French, the people who lent their name to Belgian fried potatoes.

Quoting a French engineer called Gerard Thery, Reuters says that when Jobs took one look at France's Minitel back in 1982, he hungrily dismantled it to see how this fine, magical box really worked.

Should the history -- or even existence -- of Minitel have escaped you, this was a rather fascinating box that Frenchmen placed on their home office desks in order to chat with someone who was not their wife.

Tieum/Wikipedia

It measured several yards across and had a crank handle like an old gramophone player.

Oh, yes, I exaggerate somewhat. However, this thing never caught on anywhere but France. Which is a pity, because it was, in some ways, ahead of its time. Indeed, there are those who would argue that it was the last time French business was ahead of its time.

It was finally laid to rest at the end of June, after a career more tortured than the average French actor.

This was especially painful for French farmers, who used Minitel to follow the price of pork.

It's unclear just how much Jobs took from his no-doubt joyous dismantling. But if you squint and dream in bright colors, you might just be able to see some nascent concepts behind, say, an early Mac.

Some might find deep humor, tragedy, or both in the fact that Minitel didn't develop beyond French borders because its French masters insisted it be sold as one whole ecosystem, rather than adapted to local conditions and mores.

It's odd that Jobs himself doesn't seem to have paid homage to Minitel at one of his many fine presentations. Perhaps he feared that if he'd stood up and declared that French technology had inspired him, no one would have ever taken him seriously.

 

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