The Economist: the inventor of the email

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
All images and illustrations used in our posts are licensed and have been legally acquired through official sources such as Adobe Stock