When was the last time you gathered paper, pen, an envelope, and postage stamp to write a letter? As a matter of fact, have you ever written a letter with pen and paper—then sent the letter through mail? Well, older generations is very well familiar with this process, but the newer and growing generations are more adapt to getting things done electronically. When you do send an e-mail, do you wonder who invented the e-mail and how different life would be without it? Imagine how longer it would take to deliver messages. Oh, how convenient is that “send” button in e-mail. It beats delivering letters on horseback.
Speaking for myself, I appreciate e-mail messaging. It’s one of the primary ways I communicate—whether it’s receiving notifications from my professors for particular assignments, sending messages to my peers, inquiring for more information from a business, or simply—to keep in touch. I do ALL of my writing on computer, except the moments I have to take notes in class—oh, the horror! Sometimes I forget how my handwriting looks or I worry that I may have forgotten how to write with pen and paper because I type everything. The e-mail is an ingenious invention that has stood the test of time. It makes communication that much easier and faster. Waiting for the recipient of the e-mail to respond is the only downfall.
In case you were wondering, Ray Tomlinson—an engineer at Beranek and Newman (a firm in Boston, also known as BBN Technologies)—invented the e-mail in 1971. His task was to create something unique to do with ARPANET (the newly invented computer system that gave rise to the Internet). Tomlinson was fascinated with the ways in which humans and computers could interact, so he figured out a way for computers to send messages to other computers—creating what we familiarize as the e-mail. He started by sending messages (a series of random letters and numbers) between two computers. The keyboards were ten feet apart and Tomlinson could wheel his chair “from one to the other and type a message on one, and then go to the other, and then see what I had tried to send” (NPR, 2009). Tomlinson used the @ sign to separate the user and host name of computers, and means “user @ host.”
Here’s a snippet of a question and answer session (taken from Datamation website), where Ray Tomlinson shared his thoughts about his e-mail invention. This should give insight about the inventor himself:
Q: What was your vision for email, and has the reality of it lived up to your expectations?
I’m not sure there was a vision there. It was a hack — a neat thing to try out. …It probably took four, five, six hours to do. Less than a day spread over a week or two — when I had a spare moment. The idea was this facility had proved its usefulness sending messages to the same computer. What about when someone was on another computer, maybe across the country? It would be like the telephone but they wouldn’t have to be there to answer the phone.
Q: When did you realize how big email was going to be?
It never seemed big at the beginning because there weren’t many computers. It was only as big as the network. It depended upon having people with access. As an idea, it caught on right away, but there were so few people on the network… We didn’t call it email. If we called it anything we called it mail or messages. The contrast with snail mail wasn’t necessary then… I never documented the creation of the program. In 1993, someone started to ask where email started. I knew I had done the program… but later various people came along and there were a lot of additional ideas that went into it.
Q: A lot of people say email has changed society. Do you buy into that?
I think there will never be an answer to that. It’s had an effect. I don’t think people are fundamentally different now than they would have been. They simply communicate more. Maybe they’ve made friends and maintain relationships that they wouldn’t have. But bad guys are still bad guys. Good guys are still good guys. Friendly people are still friendly. Just because they can be friendly over email and not a telephone [isn’t that much of a difference]. You just have a larger community to draw from. If you have problems or are looking for answers, you have additional opportunities to find those answers. It’s like having a library in your hometown or not. If it’s not there and you have to make a trip to another town, you might not do it. You can tap into resources more readily. People have found answers to questions and email has been part of that solution.
Q: Does it bother you that Ray Tomlinson is not a household name despite the contributions you’ve made?
No, it doesn’t bother me. It’s a geek thing. Computer nerds know that I’ve done this. I’ve gotten emails from individuals who’ve run across this fact. They say, ‘It’s great what you did. Why don’t you do something about spam?’ I’m not a household name. I wouldn’t say it has brought me no fame and fortune, but it’s not what most people think of when you say those words. It’s kind of neat to have people talking about what you did and have people interested in it. It’s not the center of my life.
Gaudin, S. (2002, July 16). A Conversation With The Inventor Of Email. Retrieved February 29, 2012, from Datamation: http://www.datamation.com/entdev/article.php/1408411/A-Conversation-With-The-Inventor-Of-Email.htm
NPR. (2009, November 15). The Man Who Made You Put Away Your Pen. Retrieved February 29, 2012, from NPR.Org: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=120364591