Email has become the dominant form of communication in our modern world. It is how your boss communicates with you and it is how scammers and Nigerian princes tell you how you can make millions of dollars. We’ve been using it for decades now and other than the Postal Service find that we can’t live without it. Did you know that email has been around for over fifty years?

As with most technology, and especially in the 1960s in the United States it was developed for use with the government. The AUTODIN system, a Department of Defense communications system was created in 1962 and allowed users to send messages from any of the 1,350 terminals in the system. At the same time MIT was developing a system that allowed access to a central terminal from remote terminals where they could share files and store them on the central terminal. By 1965 this had evolved into a primitive email service at MIT. One drawback to these programs was that both the sender and receiver of the email had to be logged in at the same time in order to communicate with each other.

It wasn’t until ARPANET that the first true emails were sent in 1971. Ray Tomlinson, a computer programmer at ARPANET, is credited with sending the very first email. His program used the @ symbol to separate the username and hostname. The domain (.com etc.) was not necessary at that point as only ARPANET was online. One would figure that he would have said something more memorable than “something like QWERTYUIOP.” had he known the impact that simple test message to himself would have. Samuel Morse and Alexander Graham Bell would have been disappointed!

Within a year UNIX Mail became the first email client program. By 1977 email had caught the eye of the Postal Service as a serious threat but they stood back to see what would happen with this “fad”. Twenty years later, when email overtook First class mail as the primary mode of communication they were urged to offer email as a service. They did not. In 2011 when the Postal Service reported bankruptcy they were urged to implement a service where customers could send an email to them and they would print it out and deliver it like they would a letter. By this point the genie was out of the bottle and the program was a failure, plus it kind of defeats the purpose of email.

Today we take email for granted. Spam filters weed out the erectile dysfunction ads and pleas from Nigerian princes to help them out and we are left with just what we want to see. Chances are you have more than one email address, so just think of all of the brainpower that went into the process when you hit that send button. It’s mind boggling to think that someone somewhere had to have the ability to conceive and program all of this.

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