The “at” sign was originally an accounting and commercial invoice abbreviation meaning “at a rate of” until Tomlinson chose the @ symbol in 1971 when he established a program that allowed people to send and receive messages from different host servers on the ARPANET (Advanced Research Projects), the predecessor of today’s Internet.
Before this, people could only communicate on the ARPANET with those who used the same computer. Tomlinson used the @ sign to separate the username from the name of their machine.
His first message, though, was not preserved and Tomlinson himself described it as nothing of significance and said it was something like QWERTYUIOP.
“Test messages were entirely forgettable and I have, therefore, forgotten them,” he was quoted as saying.
At that time, there were also stories that when Tomlinson revealed his invention to a colleague he said: “Don’t tell anyone. This isn’t what we’re supposed to be working on.”
It would not be until 1977, that Tomlinson’s email would become a standardized. But you can say he changed the way people communicate, introduced an enduring change in our lexicon and paved the way for social media.
“Tomlinson’s email program brought about a complete revolution, fundamentally changing the way we communicate,” according to the Internet Hall of Fame.
Tomlinson was born on April 23, 1941, in Amsterdam, New York. He studied at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
In 2000, Tomlinson received the George R. Stibitz Computer Pioneer Award from the American Computer Museum. After that, he received other honours including the Webby Award from the International Academy of Digital Arts.
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