[SIGCIS-Members] "Inventor of Email" campaign targets Ray Tomlinson, "racist" journalists, reality
dave.walden.family at gmail.com
Tue Mar 8 09:04:09 PST 2016
Regarding email and Ray Tomlinson.
1. BBN's marketing people sometimes would simplify things and say that
Ray invented email. We technical people (including Ray himself)
constantly corrected them to say something like "Ray did the first
demonstration of networked email". To a considerable extent that became
the BBN corporate description as the years went be.
2. The popular press likes to claim too many firsts by too few people,
and this has happened in the case of Ray and email.
3. I haven't seen much change in status quote of who says what at BBN
since the Raytheon acquisition of BBN
3. Therefore, I see the Ayyadurai claim that BBN Raytheon is on a
campaign to promote Ray as THE inventor of email is a bogus debating tactic.
4. Ray himself was always modest about what he did, and he did not over
5. I believe that seeing Ray's rudimentary networked email setup in 1971
operating over the ARPANET gave many of the rest of us (beyond a few key
visionaries who may already have seen into the future) and image of what
the Internet could become -- digital communication among everyone
6. There was email development work before Ray's initial demonstration.
There was lots more in the decades after Ray's initial demonstration.
But Ray's demonstration to my mind was bigger than just email; it was
provided an image (at least to me) of what the Internet could become
(from that moment I was thinking about what we now call the Internet of
things -- "a packet switch in every door knob and toaster").
Dave Walden (BBN, 1967-1995)
On 3/8/2016 11:38 AM, Thomas Haigh wrote:
> Thanks Chris,
> I certainly agree that the history of computing should be engaging
> with issues of race, challenging narrow ideas of what constitutes
> “innovation,” moving beyond “firsts,” looking for non-elite
> contributions, etc. In fact I’m doing some of those things right now
> in reinterpreting ENIAC history and the recent “Maintainers”
> initiative shows a broad interest within SIGCIS in these approaches.
> The problem is that Ayyadurai is a terrible basis on which to broaden
> our concept of anything. His public relations campaign is intended to
> make himself the sole inventor of email and it rests on the systematic
> misrepresentation and distortion of many aspects of history – denial
> of evidence, changes to his own claims over time, bizarre definitions,
> etc. According to his website and book “Email has a single inventor.
> That inventor of email is VA Shiva Ayyadurai. For nearly a decade,
> Raytheon's subsidiary, BBN, has been falsely promoting that it hosts
> the "inventor of email", referring to their employee Ray Tomlinson.”
> His more recent shift of emphasis towards allegations of racism
> against journalists and historians who refuse to recognize him as the
> “single inventor” of email is great public relations, but in my view
> it does a disservice to actual victims of racism. (NB: that’s not to
> say he hasn’t faced racism in life, merely that this is not the
> primary reason for skepticism towards his claim to be the sole
> inventor of email).
> Best wishes,
> *From:*Members [mailto:members-bounces at lists.sigcis.org] *On Behalf Of
> *Christopher Leslie
> *Sent:* Tuesday, March 08, 2016 10:16 AM
> *To:* <thaigh at computer.org> <thaigh at computer.org>
> *Cc:* members at sigcis.org
> *Subject:* Re: [SIGCIS-Members] "Inventor of Email" campaign targets
> Ray Tomlinson, "racist" journalists, reality
> 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
> On Tue, Mar 8, 2016 at 10:56 AM, Thomas Haigh <thaigh at computer.org
> <mailto: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
> There’s a somewhat more nuanced, but still not entirely accurate,
> report (quoting SIGCIS) at
> 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,
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> Christopher S. Leslie, Ph.D.
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