How the @ got into the email address: Communications pioneer Ray Tomlinson dies at the age of 74

He is known as the inventor of the first modern email: In 1971 US informatics expert Ray Tomlinson succeeded in sending a message between two computers for the first time. Previously, such electronic communication was restricted exclusively to users working within the same system. Email, as we now know it, was born. But something else has also survived the years – the @ sign. According to his own account, Tomlinson chose to use the commercial symbol simply because it made linguistic sense to him. As today, the symbol was then used to indicate that a user could be found “at” a specific host. In the meanwhile the @ symbol has also become a part of daily life outside of the IT world.  Over the years, the @ sign has even become entrenched in our pop culture and recently even earned a place in the design section of the venerable MoMa in New York.

Email use still growing

Despite all prophecies of doom: even in this age of social media and 45 years after Tomlinson’s invention, the oldest means of internet era communication is still gaining in importance. US market research institute Radicati estimates that there are currently 4.3 billion email accounts around the world, belonging to 2.6 billion email users. By 2019 the number of accounts is expected to rise by a further 26 percent and the number of users by around 12 percent.

Security and clear guidelines

In order for users to not lose the joy of electronic communication in their everyday work, companies are faced with increasing challenges. To ensure that sensitive data can be exchanged safely, while at the same time safeguarding against the constant threat posed by new cyber attacks, dependable email security systems are now more important than ever. Companies should also create clear guidelines for the use of electronic means of communication and continuously sensitize staff to the dangers associated with email communication. If this were to succeed, then Ray Tomlinson’s invention is sure to continue to affect and enhance our way of communicating for the next 45 years as well.

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