So Ray Tomlinson created the email and now the world can’t live without it. But what about the in-between bits? How did we become so reliant on a communication method that has relegated the humble postage stamp to ‘endangered’ status?
Email is celebrating its 40th birthday this year and I thought my gift would be to look back at the life of this invaluable invention.
Computer engineer Tomlinson sent the first email in 1971. Using his limited geeky creativeness, he sent his colleagues the message ‘QUERTYUIOP’. Maybe he should have invented the electronic thesaurus first! It was an instant hit and within two years of creating the messaging programme, 75% of traffic on ARPANET (the original version of the modern Internet) was email.
Mr Tomlinson was a little slow in naming his baby and the name ‘email’ didn’t enter modern vocabulary until 11 years after the first email was sent. The early 1980s was also the same time that personal computers first began to hit the market, making email available to the general public. It may have been the decade of excess but there was no free wi-fi in the 80s and offline readers were the norm, allowing a user to draft their email before ‘dialling’ up to the Internet to send it.
Every good story must have a hero and a villain and in this story the villain is spam. There is nothing amusing about nuisance electronic advertisements even though it got its moniker in the 1980s from a Monty Python sketch. The first spam was sent in 1978 to hundreds of users from the ARPANET directory advertising new computers, but it was so unpopular that it wasn’t tried again for more than a decade. Spammers never learn!
Free email services began to emerge in the mid 1990s, revolutionising the way people accessed their email. For the first time, users could now access their email from anywhere in the world. Google jumped on the free email bandwagon with the launch of Gmail in 2007.
So that’s it, the history of email in a nutshell. For those of us old enough to remember life without email, how has it changed the way you communicate? I would love to share your trip down memory lane.