Thank you very much. I particularly want to thank the Internet Society for this honor. I’m also particularly proud to share this honor with Vint Cerf, Bob Kahn, Steve Crocker, Tim Berners-Lee, the people I know here, Lenny Kleinrock.
The email @-sign, all that business, sort of never came to light until about 1994, at which point somebody asked “Where did email come from?” And I was asked that question, and I recalled having worked on it back in 1971. And although Len gave me credit for it in 1972, it was about three months before that that I actually did the work.
Now, I’m often asked did I know what I was doing. And the answer is yeah, 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. Computers communicate with each other all the time. They send bits. Nobody’s interested in bits. No…ordinary people. I mean, people here in this group may actually care about the bits. But the world’s population as a whole does not care about this. They care about their ability to access information and exchange information.
Now, I’ll come back to this in a moment. But the… I knew this was going to happen to me. That’s why I made notes.
Audience Member: Did you email yourself your notes?
Tomlinson: Oh yeah, I did that. Yeah. Well, anyway. What I wanted to say was that I actually found out what I had done in about 1996. That was a couple of years after the twenty-fifth anniversary the ARPANET, when there was a get-together and there was a lot of press coverage, and the early days of the ARPANET came to light. And as a result of that I started getting calls from reporters and other people who had interest in publishing something or other. And one of those people was a reference librarian from the National Institute of Standards and Technology, good old NIST in the US. And she was putting together a newsletter. She did a monthly newsletter for the people she served in her group. And she wanted to ask me questions about email. She had heard about that and she wanted some of the details.
So I communicated with her, by email of course, and I answered her questions and she asked a few more questions. And that was kind of the end of it. And I continued working at my job. At that point I was pretty much not working on the understory of the Internet. I was up there—I was a user. I was one of the people who complains all the time. And about six months after I’d had that exchange with her, I got this email. The subject was “Thank you thank you thank you.” That’s when I knew what the Internet was about, because she was thanking me for having established a way in which she could communicate with other individuals who shared a problem she had. She had a relative who was ill with an illness that [was] fairly rare and not a lot of people knew about it. But she found this group, email discussion group, where they could exchange information. So that’s what I did. Thank you.