[SIGCIS-Members] "Inventor of Email" campaign targets Ray Tomlinson, "racist" journalists, reality

Christopher Leslie chris.leslie at nyu.edu
Tue Mar 8 08:15:52 PST 2016

Dear Tom,

I understand your claims well. It does not take a lot of digging to realize
that electronic messaging was part of timesharing systems ... and if one
has an open mind, the point-to-point messaging from Teletype can be seen as
an important antecedent as well. I also understand that journalists on a
deadline might not be interested in doing this research, so they might need
our help.

Nevertheless, in a time when the professions are trying to encourage an
inclusive atmosphere, I think as a group we could be more open to Drescher
 and Ayyadurai's commentary. It is a demonstrable fact that STEM as a whole
is demographically tilted to white and Asian men and the history of
technology as a field often has a bias toward mainstream U.S. figures.
While we might be "right" in asserting that email has a long trajectory,
like the ubiquitous story of the bicycle, there is a different battle
waging around us. If SIGCIS is insensitive to this critique, we run the
risk of being on the wrong side of history.

Al Gore chose his words badly in 1999 when he said he took the initiative
to "invent" the Internet. Yet, many Internet luminaries took the initiative
to defend Gore and say that he helped provide a new vision for what the
Internet could be. Other examples could be cited. I recognize that
Ayyadurai's contribution is more modest in scope and less widespread in
influence, but it does no one any harm to say that he like many others saw
the potential for what email could become.


On Tue, Mar 8, 2016 at 10:56 AM, Thomas Haigh <thaigh at computer.org> wrote:

> Hello SIGCIS,
> Perhaps predictably, Ray Tomlinson’s recent death has prompted a new
> publicity push by Shiva Ayyadurai, the self-proclaimed “inventor of email.”
> (Backstory at http://www.sigcis.org/ayyadurai). Here are some recent
> tweets from his wife Fran Drescher, best known as “The Nanny”: “Thank
> you. Raytheon are plagiarists and liars. Big biz w/o integrity! The worst
> of the worst! Low roadsters,” and “PO'd! Ray Tomlinson WRONGLY credited 4
> email whn EVERY1 honest knos Shiva Ayyadurai @va_shiva
> <https://twitter.com/va_shiva> invented, has copyright &is a victim of
> racism.” Also “Th larger issue is the oppression of people of color. There
> is a narrative in America that white washes innovation. That's the real
> issue!” Ayyadurai himself has tweeted “White journalists since 2012 have
> joined in the lynching and whitewashing of facts on #email
> <https://twitter.com/hashtag/email?src=hash>. I challenge all and any to
> a f2f debate !!”
> The new push is reported in a Fortune blog piece,
> http://fortune.com/2016/03/07/who-really-invented-email/, which quotes
> SIGCIS at length. (I like its description of us as “an organization
> comprised of many prominent Internet historians and college professors”
> rather more than the “internet cabal” description used by Boston Magazine).
> Ayyadurai seems to be getting almost entirely uncritical coverage in
> leading Indian publications, including
> ·
> http://www.thehindu.com/sci-tech/technology/who-invented-email-ray-tomlinson-or-shiva-ayyadurai/article8323987.ece
> ·
> http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/world/us/On-Mahashivaratri-email-pioneer-Shiva-Ayyadurai-prays-for-recognition/articleshow/51297305.cms
> ·
> http://indianexpress.com/article/technology/tech-news-technology/the-inventor-of-email-is-still-alive-says-india-born-scientist/
> There’s a somewhat more nuanced, but still not entirely accurate, report
> (quoting SIGCIS) at
> http://thewire.in/2016/03/08/did-shiva-ayyadurai-invent-email-it-isnt-simple-and-youre-probably-missing-the-point-24149
> <http://thewire.in/2016/03/08/did-shiva-ayyadurai-invent-email-it-isnt-simple-and-youre-probably-missing-the-point-24149/#disqus_thread>.
> So there’s fascinating story of historical techno nationalism developing
> here, in that Ayyadurai’s new focus on alleged racism as the only reason
> for disputing his claim to have invented email seems to be enough to win
> him widespread acceptance in India despite the obvious reality-based
> problems with claiming to have invented something that was already in
> widespread use.
> Best wishes,
> Tom
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Christopher S. Leslie, Ph.D.
Co-Director and Lecturer, Science and Technology Studies
Faculty Fellow in Residence for Othmer Hall and Clark Street
Vice Chair, IFIP History of Computing Working Group 9.7

NYU Tandon School of Engineering
5 MetroTech Center, LC 131
Brooklyn, NY 11201
(646) 997-3130
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