Loyola University Maryland

Emerging Media

Emerging Media 360

Ray Tomlinson, We Thank You

image divider

The creator of something that we all take of advantage of day in and day out-email- has passed away. In a time where computers were in their prehistoric age- Ray Tomlinson invented direct email messages in 1971. With the Internet and the computer still being a fairly new invention it was almost unfathomable that you would be able to send a direct message from one computer to another. He credits the inspiration of the invention to colleagues who didn’t answer their phones…


Photo Credit- NPR

Tomlinson was a graduate of MIT and working at a Boston technology firm called Bolt. He didn’t have an Apple Laptop sitting on his lap when he invented email; he had a computer at his work that filled up the entire room. “Computers were very expensive — I think one we had here, for example, was something on the order of two or three hundred thousand dollars. That’s 1970 dollars. They were a scarce resource,” Tomlinson told the Verge in 2012 in an interview.

He was given the task of figuring out a way for humans and computers to interact. Instead, Tomlison focused on the minimal interaction via telephone between himself and distant colleagues and developed an alternative form to communicate- email. It all began by testing the invention between two computers that he had within his office. Tomlinson stated, “The keyboards were about 10 feet apart, I could wheel my 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.”

Not only did Tomlison create the capability of sending a message directly from one computer to another, he also introduced the world to the @ sign. He needed a way to separate the names of the senders to the recipients. Tomlison said in an interview withNPR, that the @ sign turns an email address into a phrase. “It means “user ‘at’ host.” Tomlinson continued, “It’s the only preposition on the keyboard.” As of 2009, more than a billion people were using the @ sign every single day. Within the same interview with NPR, he admitted that his inventions would have a huge impact on the world; he just didn’t realize how quickly it would happen.

Thank you Ray Tomlison for your invention and rest in peace.

Photo credit: NPR

Tess Lowth @tess_lowth

Emerging Media Graduate Student

Loyola University