Raymond Tomlinson, the pioneer of modern email has passed away at the age of 74.
Born in New York, Tomlinson is best known for selecting the @ symbol in order to connect a username with the destination address email, making it a central part of the communications process. The decision lifted the humble symbol from obscurity to an international icon.
Prior to Tomlinson’s efforts, email existed in a limited capacity, as electronic messages could only be shared amongst people within a limited framework – there was no way to send something to a specific person at a specific address.
In a 2012 interview, Tomlinson said:
“I looked at the keyboard, and I thought: ‘What can I choose here that won’t be confused with a username?’ If every person had an ‘@’ sign in their name, it wouldn’t work too well. But they didn’t. They did use commas and slashes and brackets. Of the remaining three or four characters, the ‘@’ sign made the most sense. It denoted where the user was … at. Excuse my English.”
At the time (1971) very few people had personal computers, so it wasn’t for a few years before personal email exploded and went global as a communications medium and an integral part of modern life.
The tech world reacted with sadness over the passing of Tomlinson, who became a cult figure for his invention and use of the @ symbol:
Thank you, Ray Tomlinson, for inventing email and putting the @ sign on the map. #RIP
— Gmail (@gmail) March 6, 2016
Trillions and trillions and trillions of emails have been sent using the @ symbol since Tomlinson, but the very first email he ever sent using the @ symbol is in fact lost to time. Tomlinson said in an interview it held nothing of importance and was therefore forgotten. Well thanks to his invention and the @ symbol, Tomlinson certainly won’t be. R.I.P Raymond Tomlinson.
– Ashton Young at NetGuide