125 years later ‘@’ a communications rock-star

At Symbol now a rock-star“Monkey’s tail”. “Little mouse”. “Little snail”. Or how you and I, and most of the free world call it: “at.” Despite modest beginnings as an accounting term the now famous and much loved character entered by pressing “shift 2” on most keyboards fuels modern communications thanks to its use in email addresses.

If it wasn’t for computer programmer Raymond Tomlinson’s random decision in 1971 to use it for the first email message, perhaps we’d be using something like the unloved carat (“^”).

An article in the Times Online beams about the little sucker, “it has become an official design icon — a sign of our times.”

A hypothetical evolution of the at-sign. Source: Wikipedia.
A hypothetical evolution of the at-sign. Source: Wikipedia.

Although @ dates back several centuries, according to the Times it wasn’t until 1885 when it first found its way onto a typewriter where it was used by accountants as short form for “at the rate of”.

@ on an old Soviet computer (circa 1984)
@ on an old Soviet computer (circa 1984). Source: Wikipedia.

So famous is the humble character—apparently even stylishly elegant—that the Museum of Modern Art in New York has added it (joining the Volkswagen Beetle) to its architecture and design collection, revering its “elegance, economy, intellectual transparency”.

For the rest of us, it’s an everyday keystroke that we don’t spare a nanosecond thinking about.

Source: Times Online

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