Ray Tomlinson (1941-2016): The man who made @ our home

 

The first time this writer saw an email address was in July 1995, and he did not understand what it was. A Norwegian girl he had just met at a Slavonic Studies course at Jan Masaryk University in Brno, Czech Republic, had written down her address just as norwegiangirlname@lse.ac.uk, instead of the long name, street, city, postal code and country. Too embarrassed to ask what that was, this correspondent understood one thing, with foreboding: it was the end of letter-writing as we knew it. There would be no more mysterious envelopes decorated with stamps from remote countries with strange names, showing images of alien landscapes, rare birds, ships and trains, writers and actors, kings, queens and tyrants. Email would also mark the end of long waits and the death of excuses that usually were unfairly at the expense of postal workers. The creation of Ray Tomlinson, an American scientist born in New York, in 1971, including the characteristic address of @, enabled the world of instant communications, speeding the world up, increasing productivity and also our anxiety, as well as the hurried message we shoot off much to our regret, as email systems do not have an embedded delay function that would make us reconsider what we are saying, which almost quite literally will arrive at its destination at the speed of light. That’s faster than our brains usually work. Yet this world appears to be here to stay.

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