The Economist: the inventor of the email

1 year ago by in Innovation
Tomlinson’s legacy: the ubiquitous @
Letters and numbers are for words and figures, both important to humans. But computers need more abstract instructions, requiring coders to reach for their % and their *, the { and the ], to tell machines what to do. In 1971 Ray Tomlinson, who died on March 5th, invented a way to send e-mails from one mainframe computer to another (previously, e-mail only worked between users of a single machine). He picked one of the remaining rarely used symbols. Since then @ has conquered the globe: a character that might well have been left off keyboards (it replaces a word of merely two letters in English) is now universal. Speakers of other languages have chosen more creative names than “at”. Greeks call it a papaki (“duckling”, for a purported similarity to comic-book ducks); in Italian it is the chiocciola (“snail”); in Danish, snabel-a (“elephant-trunk A”). With lives around the world governed by e-mail, Mr Tomlinson’s legacy is secure.

The Economist Espresso, Saturday March 12, 2106

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