[SIGCIS-Members] CBS and Henry Ford Museum laud the "Inventor of EMAIL"

Thomas Haigh thaigh at computer.org
Fri Jul 10 14:54:05 PDT 2015



Maybe we shouldn't have particularly high expectations for a daytime TV
science show fronted by a comedian. Maybe I should just learn not to care.
But is CBS's snappily named "The Henry Ford's Innovation Nation With Mo
Rocca" really without the services of anyone who knows how to work Google or
crank up Wikipedia? 


Gerard Alberts was kind enough to send me footage from some kind of branded
video screen at the Henry Ford Museum, which claims "14 year old boy" the
correct answer to the question "The MO you know. Who invented email?" Mo
Rocca's narration explains helpfully that "Shiva Ayyadurai built the email
system that is largely what we use today. While some people dispute this
claim, since electronic communications started with the telegraph and Morse
code, you can't argue with a government patent. In 1982, Shiva was granted
the US copyright on the word 'email.'" 





For those of you new to this list, or who have blanked the whole thing out,
Ayyadurai's relentless campaign to convince journalists to call him "the
inventor of email" has been running since 2010. Many technologies feature
people who claim to have been the true inventors, whose pioneering work was
unjustly marginalized by the later efforts of large corporations. Ayyadurai
is unusual because his claimed invention happened many years after
electronic mail was already in widespread use. So rather than simply having
to prove that the program he wrote was "email" his quixotic mission is to
prove that lots things we all thought were email actually weren't. I
evaluated his claims at www.sigcis.org/ayyadurai
<http://www.sigcis.org/ayyadurai>  and discussed the media lessons of the
original 2012 outbreak in a Communications of the ACM article
(http://www.tomandmaria.com/tom/Writing/CACM-SevenLessons.pdf). (One of my
observations, proven again here, was that almost nobody seems to understand
the difference between copyright and patent, or what each protects).


I found the corresponding TV segment at
of-email/. The broadcast narration calls Ayyadurai "hugely responsible" for
the decline of postal mail, having "almost single handedly made that
glue-licking face extinct." There follows a short interview Ayyadurai which
calls himself "one of the best realizations of the American Dream." Lots of
images from Ayyadurai's own website, and a moving conclusion praising
Ayyadurai's humanitarian efforts. Ayyadurai has uploaded the clip as
of-email/. The show is part of its morning entertainment lineup of, which
the network calls "THE CBS DREAM TEAM, IT'S EPIC!". The segment is
reportedly "FCC educational/informational compliant, targeted to 13- to
16-year-olds and appealing to all viewers."


I've come to view Ayyadurai as an inadvertent public servant, a kind of
mystery shopper to check the baseline competence of journalists and media
outlets. Journalists who repeat his claims fail that test. In this case, for
example by advertising to the world that they believe that a copyright is
the same thing a patent. Or by making it clear that they don't scroll down
the first screen of Google results to evaluate the credibility of the person
they are interviewing, or to check the Wikipedia article about the
technology he claims to have invented to see if it assigns him a significant
role. As the Columbia Journalism Review urged after the Washington Post
embarrassed itself back in 2012,
"Google it, Man." In a better world that kind of professional failure would
have consequences, such as having to find a line of work that doesn't
involve explaining the history of technology to the public. Sometimes, alas,
less is Mo.


Best wishes,






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