The Boy Who Invented Email — History of Email (Part 1)
This is the first article in The History of Email Series. (from the Huffington Post)
In 1978, a 14-year-old boy invented email.
He created a computer program, which he called “email,” that replicated all the functions of the interoffice mail system: Inbox, Outbox, Folders, Memo, Attachments, Address Book, etc., the now familiar parts of every email system.
That ecosystem of love, caring and community allowed his creativity to blossom. History shows that such ecosystems are ultimately the source from which innovations can continually emerge in a healthy and sustainable manner.
When Shiva was accepted to a special program at New York University (NYU) to study computer science, for example, his mother and a neighbor took turns driving him at 5 AM to Newark’s Penn Station, from where Shiva took the train to NYU.
After finishing the NYU program, another family friend, Martin Feuerman took the initiative to introduce Shiva to Dr. Leslie P. Michelson, then Director of the Laboratory Computer Network (LCN) at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (UMDNJ). Shiva’s talent, passion and commitment immediately impressed Dr. Michelson, and he offered Shiva a position as a Research Scholar, and gave him a challenge: to convert the old system of paper-based mail communications used at UMDNJ to an electronic one.
Before Shiva could take on this challenge, he needed approval from his high school. A 14-year-old student traveling thirty miles to Newark, in the middle of school hours, was unprecedented.
But a dedicated teacher, Stella Oleksiak, became Shiva’s advocate. She negotiated with the principal and school administrators at Livingston High School, and convinced them that Shiva was responsible and given this opportunity, he would make an important contribution. The school’s administration acquiesced, and allowed Shiva to travel to Newark, during school hours, to start the project.
Prior to 1978, experts and electronic messaging researchers at big institutions, including members of the ARPANET team, thought it “impossible” to create such an electronic inter-organizational mail system. The seminal RAND report, written by David Crocker, a leading ARPANET electronic messaging researcher, makes this unequivocally clear.
In December of 1977, Mr. Crocker wrote:
“At this time, no attempt is being made to emulate a full-scale, inter-organizational mail system. The fact that the system is intended for use in various organizational contexts and by users of differing expertise makes it almost impossible to build a system which responds to all users’ needs.” (D. Crocker, December of 1977)
This report was written just a few months before Shiva began his project at UMDNJ.
The big institutions such as the ARPANET, MIT and the military had decided not to even attempt to create an electronic replica of the interoffice mail system. They chose to focus on the simple exchange of text messages between devices, dating back to the lineage of the Morse Code telegraph of the 1800s. Their efforts were the precursors to what we know today as Texting, Chat, and Twitter, the simple exchange of short messages, but certainly not email.
Shiva, however, had a singular focus to create a “full-scale inter-organizational mail system” in order to make the lives of office workers easier. He took into consideration human factors: the system had to be easy-to-use. He created a simple user interface so secretaries, doctors, students, and staff could easily migrate from the typewriter to the keyboard. His system did not need the Internet or ARPANET, but ran on the Wide Area Network (WAN) and Local Area Network (LAN), already in place at UMDNJ.
In 1981, Shiva received a Westinghouse Science Talent Search Honors Award, known as the “Baby Noble’s” for his invention. In his Westinghouse application, the young teenager had a remarkable prescience on the future of email. He wrote in the conclusion of his application:
“One day, electronic mail, like Edison’s bulb, may also permeate and pervade our lives. It’s practical applications are unlimited. Not only is mail sent electronically, as many telexes and teletypes are capable of doing, but it offers a computational service that automates a secretary’s or file clerk’s work of writing a memorandum, document or letter, editing, filing, and retrieving. If electronic mail systems become a reality, they will surely create different patterns of communication, attitudes, and styles. Volumes of written work, for example, shall become obsolete.” V.A. Shiva Ayyadurai, 1981
The 14-year-old boy’s predictions on email all have come true.
Shiva’s example demonstrates that we cannot underestimate the creativity and wisdom of our young people. Nearly 25% of the world’s population is less than the age of 14, and about 50% are below the age of 25.
Huffington Post was first to share the Anniversary of Email in 2011.
To celebrate this year’s Anniversary, I am honored to be writing this article to launch the five-part Series on the History of Email. I understand that Shiva will also be doing an exclusive HuffPost Live interview with Shiva and his 82-year-old father, on August 29, 2014, to share his journey.
The second article, “The Invention of Email” by Dr. Leslie P. Michelson, Shiva’s mentor, who is currently the Director of High Performance Computing at Rutgers Medical School in Newark, NJ, shares his experience working with Shiva and describes the ecosystem for innovation at UMDNJ in 1978. In the third article, “The First Email System”, Mr. Robert Field, one of Shiva’s co-workers from 1978, will share the details of the system that Shiva built at UMDNJ.
In the fourth article, Dr. Deborah Nightingale, former Director of MIT’s Sociotechnical Systems Research Center, and a world-renowned expert in systems and enterprise architecture, will share “The Five Myths About Email” .
We will conclude the Series with Shiva sharing his thoughts on “The Future of Email,” including what we can do to protect our individual freedoms relative to email security and privacy.
We welcome you to the History of Email Series, and invite you to celebrate the Anniversary of Email, this August 30th, and unleash the spirit of innovation!
TO READ THIS ARTICLE IN ITS ENTIRETY, visit: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/larry-weber/the-history-of-email-boy-who-invented-email_b_5690783.html