Telidon: A Canadian Initiation of Dial-Up Art

The truth is that many modern people cannot imagine their life without the Internet. When a question arises, a person takes a smartphone, surfs the web, and finds an answer in a matter of seconds. Such progress should not be ignored and must be used properly. However, it is important to remember there was a time when there was no Internet, and people had to write letters, use their home phones, and read newspapers to find out news or exchange information.

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Even in the 1970s, millions of people worldwide managed to survive, promoting a safe and interesting future for their generation. During that period, it was hard to take a new technological step, let alone prove its importance. Representatives of the Canadian Communications Research Center (CRC) made such an attempt, offering the opportunity for people to use television as a means of communication with the world. In this report, the history of Telidon, its impact on Canadian society, as well as other nations, and the technological contributions it made will be discussed to prove that older technologies should not be forgotten but used for education, inspiration, motivation, and further development.

The Development of Information Technology in the Late 1970s

Today, such services as Google, YouTube, MySpace, and Twitter are frequently used to share and find information, discuss recent news, watch movies, and listen to music. However, before the advent of the World Wide Web, people tried various technologies to facilitate their lives and enhance progress. One of these was Telidon (Hampton, 2018). It was introduced as a two-way television based on videotex and Teletext services. This Canadian technology was recognized in the global arena, winning over such competitors as France and Britain and gaining the rights for additional field trials in the United States (Gabereau & Parkhill, 1980).

Herb Bown was the major developer of Telidon and began his first research into computer graphics during the mid-1960s. The main idea was rather simple for those who understood the characteristics of modern TV sets. Bown, O’Brien, Sawchuk, and Storey (1978) used videotex (retrieval services in domestic television receivers modified as terminal equipment) to access textual or graphic information via a systematic search with the help of a numeric keypad. In other words, they offered one of the possible forms of Internet services to Canadian users.

Telidon was essentially an experiment to demonstrate to the public the potential opportunities in future knowledge improvement. Although it was not an online computer service, modern users can make comparisons to get an idea of what Telidon was all about in the 1970s. During the radio communication between Gabereau and Parkhill (1980), the latter explained that Telidon was a special adaptor that had to be connected to a conventional TV set. The system included an adaptor itself that resembled a converter box, with a keypad that was the size of a calculator to access the existing information database (Gabereau & Parkhill, 1980).

Information suppliers created large data banks and as soon as they obtained payment from their users, they opened up access to the required information. The quality and amount of data represented by Telidon were as high as could be expected in this age, and it was certainly a significant breakthrough for the country, as well as the world of information technology (IT).

Technological Progress of Telidon

Technological progress was closely connected with the creation of such services as videotex and Teletext. The United Kingdom, France, and Canada were the main participants in this area. After the release of the report, A general description of Telidon: A Canadian proposal for videotex systems introduced by Bown et al. (1978), the government and the representatives of several countries became interested in the opportunities promoted by Telidon.

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This alphageometric method of graphics generation differed from other similar projects by the possibility to produce images with a sharp definition, attracting the attention of Germany and the United States in particular (Rose, 1982). It became necessary to improve Telidon and ensure its functions could be increased.

Being inspired by the report and the discussion of potential areas of improvement, the Canadian government became the main contributor of economic resources for the development of Telidon. Canada turned out to be a country with great technological potential, and it can be seen as one of the major achievements of the country during the last several decades. Bown et al. (1978) promised to provide direct access to data published on many pages and available offline, introduce a variety of computer programs for entertainment, encourage communication using textual and visual messages, and improve the generation of pictures. People wanted to know more about Telidon, and Telidon wanted to improve the level of knowledge of citizens by using television as the main medium of communication.

Media that Reshaped a Lifestyle

During the 1970s and the beginning of the 1980s, the population was obsessed with television and the opportunities it provided to discover the news, both locally and worldwide. Traditional media had the means to reshape lifestyles and continued influencing public opinion and human needs. Telidon penetrated the same field but used television as the method to present information. Knowledge is power, and people wanted to access it any time they wanted. Between 1980 and 1984, there were several successful trials of Telidon, including the use of Teletext in 1980, videotex in 1981, and a stand-alone IRIS project in 1982 (Gillies, 1990). Today, the function of Telidon could be compared to those of Smart TV (but without access to the Internet).

The developers of Telidon tried to promote public knowledge and took small steps in choosing the types of information that might be interesting or useful for people. The users of Telidon could find financial or weather information, learn the prices of local products, and benefit from teleshopping, tele-education, and telebanking (Barr & Bergoise, 1981). Telidon helped to save time in a variety of ways.

For example, it was possible to learn theater primers, make a reservation, and buy tickets to shows (Barr & Bergoise, 1981). The Task Force on the Service to Public was a group of people responsible for improving communication between the government and citizens (Rose, 1982). A list of governmental services with their phone numbers and working hours was introduced via Telidon (Rose, 1982). In other words, the Telidon network was one of the first well-known attempts to promote online booking, shopping, and search inquiries.

Competition and Failure

Regardless of the progress achieved and the number of options open to people, Telidon faced several organizational and technical problems. On the one hand, it was hard for its developers to gauge what kind of information was interesting to people and how to maintain their interest all the time. After thorough marketing research and analysis, Gillies (1990) recognized three main reasons for Telidon’s failure: “human fallibility, private sector competitiveness and bureaucratic rigidity” (p. 6). There was a small scale of predictive reliability (Gillies, 1990). Although the inventors of Telidon were recognized as significant contributors to the Canadian technology revolution, competition and new achievements undermined the reputation of Telidon within several years.

New computers became available to citizens for home usage, and more attractive graphics and simpler operational instructions influenced the choice of potential users. The government made the first significant decision to stop funding Telidon in 1985. However, the methods and ideas from the Telidon network were not forgotten and became the basis for creating new terminals in airports and seaports to inform employees and clients about incoming flights and voyages. With time, Telidon was replaced by technological giants such as Apple Macintosh. However, its introduction of quasi-animations and an option to receive information via reading text on a TV screen made Telidon a symbolic Internet pioneer (Hampton, 2018). As such, it is wrong to neglect the contributions of this network within IT history.

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The Telidon network had a short story but made an impressive impact on society. New ideas and a unique vision of the future of society, education, and financial activities were recognized. Bown and his team received several rewards in the field of IT and engineering. Although the government did not find it necessary to continue funding Telidon after the introduction of other computer networks for home use, the progress initiated by that network was never neglected.

Telidon showed how to share information with people without them having to leave their homes, as well as how to improve cooperation between the government and the general public. It was a real breakthrough for Canada in the world of modern technologies. In addition, it turned out to provide a solid background for future computer and Internet developments throughout the rest of the world.


Barr, P., & Bergoise, A. (1981). Telidon – ‘Knowledge at your fingertips! [Video file]. Web.

Bown, H. G., O’Brien, C. D., Sawchuk, W., & Storey, J. R. (1978). A general description of Telidon: A Canadian proposal for videotex systems. Web.

Gabereau, V., & Parkhill, D. (1980). Telidon, the two-way television. Web.

Gillies, D. J. (1990). Technological determinism in Canadian telecommunications: Telidon technology, industry and government. Canadian Journal of Communication, 15(2), 1-15. Web.

Hampton, C. (2018). This Canadian dial-up art is older than the internet, and was long thought to be lost – until now. CBC Arts. Web.

Rose, F. E. (1982).Telidon and Canadian government information. Government Publications Review, 9(4), 345-350. Web.

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