The year was 1971. The writer was Ray Tomlinson
Alexander Graham Bell of e-mail is Ray Tomlinson, and he can't even remember
the first message he sent. "It may have been 'QWERTYUIOP,' or just
'TESTING,'" Tomlinson says.
Admittedly, typing 10
consecutive letters on a computer keyboard isn't nearly as dramatic as
Bell's "Watson, come here, I need you!" in 1876, but the from
of communication that evolved is every bit as far-reaching and revolutionary
as the telephone.
"The development of e-mail stands out
as a crucial moment in the history of computer-mediated communication,"
Ian Hardy, a Berkeley cyberhistorian, told me, appropriately enough, in
an e-mail message. "Before e-mail, people didn't view computers as
tools for talking to one another."
In fact, in 1958, sending instant messages
was probably the furthest thing from the minds of the engineers who set
up ARPANET, the antecedent of today's Internet. Forget chatting. ARPANET
was created by the Defense Department's Advanced Research Projects Agency
in direct response to the Soviet Union's launch the previous year of Sputnik
I. The idea was to link computers at remonte sites so massive files could
be transferred from one researcher to another.