As a kid I always wondered what the @ on my parent’s now antiquated typewriter was for.
It didn’t seem to have much of a use back then. Was it there just to fill the space above the number 2?
We call it the “at sign”, but it doesn’t really have an official name. In fact, no one even agrees on it’s origin.
Some historians claim it stood for at the rate of. Mercantile owners used it to denote how much something cost, like 12 cookies @ $2. There is also evidence that it was used as an abbreviation for the word at by Medieval monks making handwritten copies of manuscripts.
Perhaps it was the @’s obscurity that lead to its present notoriety. Most other symbols on the keyboard had a purpose, a name, an agreed upon meaning. Was the @ chosen to become the facilitator of modern communication, because it seemed to have no other use?
The @ has certainly come up in the world during the last two decades.
I use that once strange symbol on a daily, even hourly basis now. I would be hard pressed to communicate without it.
Of course, the @ sign first entered the limelight as a part of the email address. It tells the sever what domain the email is supposed to go to.
Now the @ sign is an important component of online communication, used to note when a message is directed to or refers to a specific user name. For example, the @replies in Twitter.
Some threaded blog comment formats have started to use the @ symbol when readers respond to each other in comment section discussions.
If you use the @ symbol before you start to type someone’s name on Facebook, it brings up a drop down list of all your friends, then links the selected name to their profile.
Why does this fascinate me so? Because it coincides with how much the way we communicate has changed.
For thousands of years we could communicate over distance only by written word sent via some sort of carrier.
Then there was the telegraph, and the telephone. The next change didn’t take millenniums, but it was still decades before the advent of the personal computer. Not long after came email and the Internet. Now in just a few years it’s exploded with cell phones, smart phones, laptops, Ipads, and untold numbers of applications for all.
For what purpose?
To achieve instant and real time global communication.
This communication, email and social media, is as a stay-at-home-mom an answer to isolation, a lifeline when the kids make me want to pull out my hair, and a vehicle to write even though I don’t have a career.
I used a computer for the first time in 1983 in elementary school. It was a Vic-20 from the Commodore company. In 3rd grade we practiced math problems, and spelling lessons on it.
The Vic used a tape cassette, instead of floppy disk. It didn’t have gigabytes or megabytes. It had only 5 kilobytes of memory. There was no mouse. Just a keyboard with arrow keys.
And an @ sign.
That meant nothing to me then.
It means so much now.