As we wrote a couple of days ago, Ray Tomlinson passed away this past Sunday at the age of 74. Though in the broader world his role as the inventor of email was largely performed anonymously, we, as the founders of a company that very literally would not exist without him, wanted to take a moment here and offer a brief remembrance of and thanks for Mr. Tomlinson’s contribution.
In this age of “rock star” founders and branded TED-talk friendly CEOs, it is refreshing to look at the work of one man who absolutely did not crave the spotlight, who was instead one of the many men and women working in the mid-twentieth century to create what we today take for granted as the Internet. Without Tomlinson and the programmers, engineers, and designers like him, there is no Steve Jobs, no Jeff Bezos, no Mark Zuckerberg.
If it wasn’t fame that Tomlinson was after, neither does it seem to have been fortune: he worked his entire life for BBN and its eventual parent company Raytheon. In a tech culture where every 17-year-old intern has one foot out the door looking to launch their own campaign for global conquest, Ray Tomlinson provides a refreshing counter-example.
So, if not fame, and not fortune…what was the goal? According to Tomlinson himself:
I’m often asked, did I know what I was doing? And the answer is, yes, I knew exactly what I was doing. I just had no notion whatsoever of what the ultimate impact would be. What I was doing was providing a way for people to communicate with other people.”
There are not many goals more worthy than that. Today, 4 billion people use email. To communicate with one another. To bridge gaps. To connect worlds. Not only did Tomlinson help to make our world faster, he made it smaller, in the best way.
And though Mr. Tomlinson is gone, we are comforted by the fact that his greatest achievement will live on. Of course, we have a vested interest in being optimistic about the future of email, but we are proud to carry on in the very large footsteps of Mr. Tomlinson and the men and women like him, as we work to further perfect his creation.
That first email — the contents of which were, according to Tomlinson, “entirely forgettable and I have, therefore, forgotten them”—was sent in 1971. That same year, in different corners of France, the two of us were born into a world that was about to be changed forever (and, thank God, not just by disco). We are grateful to Ray Tomlinson not only for the revolutionary fruits of his labor but for the inspirational model he provides, a man who worked so hard to connect others. His is an example that we will continue to hold up as we move forward with Timyo.
Thanks, Ray, @wherever you are.
Alfred & Fabrice