On the origin of email→

The Atlantic:

In the early days, checking email required a person to log onto a computer and use the keyboard to enter a “type mailbox” command. “The mailbox was just a file and the type command typed the contents of the file onto the paper in the terminal,” Tomlinson said. “Some systems would check the user’s mailbox after they logged in, and if it was not empty, a message like, ‘YOU HAVE MAIL,’ would be printed.” A separate program had to be used to compose outgoing messages, before inbox-outbox functionalities were eventually integrated. “By the end of the 1970s, most of the features of email we take for granted were present,” Tomlinson said.  

Oddly timely – I spent the day going through unix commands, learning the general structure, and this fits right in with what was being discussed in the class.
The full article is well worth a read- a good history of email, as well as a discussion of the ‘email overload’ issue that’s apparently widespread.1


  1. I’ve seen this as an issue once or twice, at which point I promptly unsubscribed from a bunch of the daily emails and trained Gmail to filter even more of them away. Automation isn’t that hard to do, and it’s quite useful.