Archive for the ‘e-mail’ Category

A great series in the NY Times this week written by documentary filmmaker Errol Morris trying to find out if his late brother Noel had been an inventor of electronic mail. Driven by a desire to learn more about his family, Morris began his journey by telephoning Tom Van Vleck, a colleague of Noel’s at MIT, which immediately bore fruit. Van Vleck, as it turned out, was himself a twig on an illustrious and accomplished family tree, which he had also researched.

Along the way, Morris obtained historical documents and photos that backed up Van Vleck’s claims that Noel was there with him at the beginning. A fascinating series about one of the most revolutionary developments in the history of high tech and the brilliant people who were responsible. There’s even an interactive feature in this article where you can write your own code and send an email from 1965.

Chris Hartman

AT MIT: Steve Webber, Charlie Clingen (the boss), Barry Wolman and Noel Morris, about 1974. Courtesy, Tom Van Vleck via the NY Times


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Thirty-five years ago today, Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak, and Ronald Wayne signed a partnership agreement that established the company that will become Apple Computer, Inc. on January 3, 1977. (Wayne left the company eleven days later, relinquishing his ten percent share for US$2300). Steve Jobs told Stephen Segaller in Nerds 2.0.1:  (more…)

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In his book “The Tyranny of E-Mail,” author, John Freeman, has researched how 4,000 years of communication and technological breakthroughs have lead us to e-mail, a form of electronic communication that we can’t get away from.  Once broadband communication arrived, e-mail became the world’s most convenient communication tool.

Here are some facts about e-mail from Freeman’s book:

* The first e-mail was sent less than 40 years ago
* In 2007, 35 trillion messages were shot back and forth through 1 billion PCs
*  By 2011, there will be 3.2 billion e-mail users
* The average corporate worker receives > 200 e-mails per day and spends 40% of his/her time on e-mail each day
* Information overload is a $650 billion drag on the U.S. economy every year
* The tone of an e-mail is misunderstood 50% of the time

The History of E-Mail

Freeman quotes J.C.R. Licklider, an engineering professor at MIT and first director of the Pentagon’s Advanced Research Projects Agency from a paper entitled “Man-Computer Symbiosis” where he wrote ” The hope is that in not too many years, human brians and computing machines will be coupled…tightly, and that the resulting partnership will think as no human brain has ever thought and process data in a way not approached by the information-handling machines we know today.”  Fifty years later, Freeman concludes that the day has arrived because to read an e-mail you have to be joined to a machine.

When Samuel Morse sent the first telegram in May 1844, the message was “What hath God  wrought.”  When the first e-mail was sent out by Ray Tomlinson using the @ symbol, it contained a random series of letters and numbers.  Or as Freeman writes: “In other words:  gibberish.  He just wanted to see if it would arrive and didn’t bother to type anything providential.”

The Affect on E-Mail on Us

Freeman proves in his book that we have “started reverse engineering our brains for speed, as opposed to mindfullness.”  He goes on to write that “Empirical evidence is flooding in regarding the ways that screen-based reading, which has grown from e-mail, is changing the way we read generally.  Eye-tracking studies have shown that people increasingly tend to leapfrog over long blocks of text.”

With handheld devices that give us 24/7 access to e-mail, there is pretty much no where that people do not pause to check it.  There is no downtime any more.  In fact, the word “crackberry” was Webster’s New World College Dictionary’s 2006 word of the year.  Freeman writes that we work in a climate of constant interruption.  Multi-tasking is a way of life that probably isn’t going to change back to the way things used to be when messages were sent by carrier pigeon.  In his last chapter “Don’t Send” Freeman offers some tips on how you can take back control of your in-box and your life.


This book was written to make you pause and think about what has happened to your life since you became continously available to others via e-mail.  It’s worth a read.  Especially the last chapter.  Think about this quote that begins the “Don’t Send” chapter.

“I’ve been a happy man ever since January 1, 1990, when I no longer had an e-mail address.  I’d used e-mail since about 1975, and it seems to me that 15 years of e-mail is plenty for one lifetime.”  — Don Knuth, Stanford University

About This Book

Published by Scribner in October 2009.  It’s hardcover – 256 pages.  Cost is $25.00 (U.S.)

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