Ray Tomlinson, the man who improved our lives in such a profound way, has died aged 74.
The American computer scientist invented direct electronic messages between users on different machines on a certain network in 1971.
Before then, users could only write messages to others using the same computer.
“A true technology pioneer, Ray was the man who brought us email in the early days of networked computers,” his employer, Raytheon, said in a statement.
“His work changed the way the world communicates and yet, for all his accomplishments, he remained humble, kind and generous with his time and talents. He will be missed by one and all.”
A company spokesman said Ray passed away on March 6, and the cause of death was not yet confirmed.
Tributes have poured in from the online world. Google’s Gmail even thanked Ray for his contribution to email in a tweet.
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology graduate detailed his creation on his blog, in an attempt to prevent legend from overtaking the facts.
“The first message was sent between two machines that were literally side by side [connected only through ARPANET],” he wrote on his blog.
“I sent a number of test messages to myself from one machine to the other.
“The test messages were entirely forgettable and I have, therefore, forgotten them.
“Most likely the first message was QWERTYUIOP or something similar.
“When I was satisfied that the program seemed to work, I sent a message to the rest of my group explaining how to send messages over the network.
“The first use of network email announced its own existence.”
Why bother at all, given the limited number of people using computers in those days?
Ray reasoned that while the telephone worked just fine, someone still had to be there to receive the call. There was no voicemail in the early 1970s, and few people could afford to subscribe to answering services.
“As the network grew and the growth of all that accelerated, it became a really useful tool.”
For a couple decades thereafter, email was a novelty. It wasn’t until the explosion of the personal computer, followed by online services in the late ’80s and early ’90s that email became widespread.
In the age of texting, social media and smartphones, email has become somewhat less important, but it’s still pervasive: there were 3.9 billion email accounts in 2013, according one to one study.
Business alone accounts for 100 billion emails sent and received per day, as of 2013.