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Profiles in Tech: Ray Tomlinson, Creator of the Email

Email has revolutionized the way we communicate with one another on both a personal and professional level. Ray Tomlinson came up with the idea of the email in 1971, while working at Bolt, Beranek, and Newman, which is currently called BBN. Here is some information on the background of Ray Tomlinson, where he found inspiration for the email, and how his invention has affected the way we communicate around the world.

Background

Ray Tomlinson was born in Amsterdam, N.Y. He attended Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y. and graduated in 1963 with a B.A. in Science with a focus on Electrical Engineering. He then went to attend MIT and received a S.M. in Electrical Engineering in 1965. After he graduated, he joined Bolt, Beranek, and Newman, which is now called BBN. This is the position where Tomlinson came up with the code that allowed messages to be sent back and forth between two computers-a.k.a. the email.

Inspiration for the Email

Ray Tomlinson was inspired to invent the email because his friends and colleagues didn’t want to answer their phones but they needed a way to retrieve messages that was more reliable than someone else taking a message for them. When Tomlinson worked at BBN, he was given a task by his superiors to create something original with ARPANET, or the early 70’s version of a computer that served as a predecessor to the modern day Internet. In 1971, he began by sending messages between two computers in the office, and going back and forth to make sure the other computer got the message he sent. So what did that first email say? Unfortunately, Tomlinson doesn’t remember, except it was probably “gibberish” or maybe a snippet from the Gettysburg Address, according to him. Tomlinson used the @ sign to separate the user from the sender. The @ sign literally means user @ (at) host.

Notable Quotes by Ray Tomlinson

“I see email being used, by and large, exactly the way I envisioned.”

“At the time (in 1971), there was no really good way to leave messages for people. The telephone worked up to a point, but someone had to be there to receive the call…so everyone latched on to the idea that you could leave messages on the computer.”

Conclusion

Ray Tomlinson revolutionized the way we communicate on both a personal and professional level. There’s no longer a need to write a letter or leave a message with a secretary all the time. Or perhaps there’s that uncomfortable project you are late on and aren’t really keen on talking to the client over the phone; now you have email. Need to attach files or scan documents? Now they can be done over email. These developments have offered services that have never been considered before, and we are better as a society for it.

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