This week the Technology industry mourns the loss of a great pioneer. Ray Tomlinson, the creator of email has died at the age of 74.
In 1971, Ray sent a message from one computer to another instantly via Arpanet. The computers were just a few feet away from each other when the test took place. When asked about it a few years ago, he couldn’t remember the exact content of the message. However, once he was satisfied that it worked, he sent a message to his entire work group explaining how to use it. So the first use of network email actually announced its own existence. The world would never be the same after that moment.
It was thanks to Ray that the @ symbol, which was rarely used until recent years, has become an iconic symbol in our digital world. The purpose of the “at” sign (in English) was to indicate a unit price (for example, 10 items @ $1.95). Ray decided that it would be an appropriate symbol to indicate that someone belonged to another domain, rather than a local address.
Since its invention, we have never improved upon email. Many software companies have found ways to make emailing easier, but the fundamental concept of email remains unchanged. Many of us even use email as a replacement to formal paper documents by incorporating digital signatures and seals into the body of the message.
Email is allowing companies to go paperless and reduce carbon footprints, thanks to integration with Customer Relationship Management (CRM), Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) or Business Process Management (BPM) systems. This is a huge step towards tackling climate change and allows us to do away with space-consuming filing cabinets and storage areas.
However, like many tools in the Technology industry, people have found ways to use this great tool for malicious purposes. 80% of all emails sent around the world each day are Spam. Spammers pray on the innocence of people to fool them into divulging personal information for the purposes of identity theft or other crimes.
By now, we are all well aware of the problems of phishing scams, viruses in email attachments, Ransomware and of course, that poor suffering Prince in Nigeria who just needs our help to get some money out of the country. I hope somebody helps him soon, he’s been struggling for so many years with that problem. All kidding aside, these types of emails are a threat to any organization and its always a good idea to be on the lookout for things like this.
When I first started using email, it was somewhat frustrating. I had this great platform for sending information instantly with people and keeping in touch with distant friends, just by sitting in front of my computer. I remember feeling that we really were living in the future when I sat to type out my latest news to people, at a rate of fifteen words per minute. The only problem was, I was one of the first to jump on that bandwagon, I had to call my friends and beg them to send me an email – perhaps somewhat counterproductive.
Now (At the other end of the scale) I receive over a hundred emails per day, and if I’m not at my computer, I’m alerted to someone offering great savings on certain blue pills via my phone. There are few excuses left for us to not reply to an email within minutes of receiving it, and some people live in constant anxiety and fear that emails must be read outside of work time. I myself have often seen the display on my phone reading “1 unread email message” on the screen during the weekend, which I find impossible to ignore. It sits there reminding me that it’s there, like a splinter, calling out to me to at least open it and see what it says, even if I don’t reply right away. It’s impossible to ignore.
It’s been widely theorized in recent years that email is not actually a productive communication method and many companies such as Slack, Facebook and Yammer are seeking alternative concepts of keeping people in touch in a more intuitive way. One of those ways is Facebook for Business, which is being beta tested in some countries at the moment, providing an interface that we are all familiar with, but which separates our personal communications from our professional ones.
I’m not sure how I feel about that, since Facebook is one of the few virtual places I can go where work and leisure don’t mix. I’m not a fan of Facebook, I’ve encountered more than a fair share of problems due to it. However, I use it to keep in touch with family and friends on the other side of the Atlantic and frankly, I don’t feel obliged to check my notifications or respond to friend requests in a timely manner. At least there is no shortage of funny cat videos though, people tend not to send me those via email.
Despite software companies trying their best to revolutionize internet communication, we are still using email. The hottest communication app today could easily be gone tomorrow, nobody that I know of actually uses Facebook’s email function and to the best of my knowledge, the Nigerian prince hasn’t sent me a friendship request, making me feel less obliged to help him.
The Technology industry is the fastest evolving industry in the world, and although we see people reinventing the wheel each day, email is still around. We’ve used it for the last 45 years and it doesn’t seem to be disappearing anytime soon. Thank you, Mr. Tomlinson!