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CC: @ Raymond Tomlison

Posted on March 7, 2016, at 8:15 p.m.
by Eliza Sheffield.

In light of the recent passing of Raymond Tomlison, inventor of modern email and pioneer of the @ symbol, let’s take a closer look at the contributions he left behind.


With all the other digital communication options, email is uncool among young people, for sure. But it’s still remarkably lasting, considering the fad alternatives. In March 2016, it would be unthinkable (and possibly unforgivable) to shoot someone a quick message on MySpace, all-the-rage platform of 2007. But you’ve probably spent some time today sending words through email, vintage direct communication mammoth of 1972.

As resented as it is relevant, email has been described as the cockroach of the Internet, and there’s certainly something to be said for its pervasiveness.

Email is flawed, but not enough to knock it out of the game. Because email and the Internet developed alongside each other, the way we use them is completely intertwined, and proponents for a less centralized Web credit email’s perseverance as a success story. Instead of just replacing snail mail, email has also ingrained itself in corporate and personal communications.

When other digital tools struggled to adapt, email quickly morphed to fit mobile devices, which has made it a goldmine for marketers. What’s that? You can directly deliver key messages to your target audience’s pockets? It’s an advertiser’s dream, especially since money that used to go to print mailings can now go to further expanding and perfecting audience lists. Fortunately, sophisticated spam folders help keep advertisement kudzu in check.

Sure, business communication is evolving, and tools like Slack are offering businesses a clean and efficient communication board option for group discussion. However, users still have to input their emails to sign up, which reinforces the fact that email will not be replaced anytime soon, especially because of its role in online identity verification.

Even though alternative services can improve on parts of email’s job, such as internal corporate communication, email remains a crucial communication tool and a key pillar in the structure of the Internet. Email’s facelessness makes it a tough foe to conquer, but maybe defeating it isn’t the point.

Does our anxiety with email stem from a problem within the platform itself or a mismanagement of the medium? Maybe there’s something to be said for taking it easy on email and instead taking a closer look at ourselves.

Email was originally designed to leave messages for people when they were not available, sort of like a text-based voicemail. But an immediate-response culture has given email an element of urgency that has stressed us out and left us scrambling.

“It emotionally weighs on us,” said Alex Moore, CEO of Boomerang, in an Atlantic article, “We let email interrupt us dozens and dozens of times a day, and that is awful. … There’s research out there that says every time you get an email notification and you look at it, it takes you 64 seconds to recover. You basically can never work. You’re constantly recovering from the notification. … We’re stressing ourselves out. We’re living in notification hell. That’s really the thing that’s at the root cause of why people hate email.”


As we hop from one digital communication source to another, the way we perceive digital media ultimately depends on the way we choose to use it, not on one platform’s features over another. The culture of immediate response may be at fault, but it’s up to consumers to take control of communication instead of letting it take control of us.

Inbox anxiety is on the rise. In fact, there’s a good chance your unread message count has crept to three or four since starting to read this post.

Before you refresh your email tab, take time to ask yourself: Is it worth the interruption?

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