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The man who put the '@' in your email dies aged 74

08 Mar 16

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:

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.

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