In 1971, however, a keyboard with a vestigial @ symbol inherited from its typewriter ancestors found itself hooked up to an ARPANET terminal manned by Ray Tomlinson, who was working on a little program he’d come up with in his goofing-off time to send messages from computer to computer. Tomlinson ended up using the @ symbol as the fulcrum of the lever that ultimately ended up lifting the world into the digital age: email.
“It’s difficult to imagine anyone in Tomlinson’s situation choosing anything other than the ’@’ symbol, but his decision to do so at the time was inspired,” explains Houston on his blog. “Firstly, it was extremely unlikely to occur in any computer or user names; secondly, it had no other significant meaning for the operating system on which it would run, and lastly, it read intuitively–user ‘at’ host.”
It was as simple as that, but through this one serendipitous accident of typography, @ became the navel of the digital body we now call the Internet. It stopped being a sign for how much something cost and became a symbol of an infinite number of end points on a digital umbilicus: an origin, a destination, or some point–terminating in a human–in the system in-between.