90.9 WBUR - Boston's NPR news station
Top Stories:
PLEDGE NOW
Here and Now with Robin Young
Public radio's live
midday news program
With sponsorship from
Mathworks - Accelerating the pace of engineering and science
Accelerating the pace
of engineering and science
Thursday, May 9, 2013

A Brief History Of @

A giant "at" sign is shown in front of the ExciteAtHome headquarters in Redwood City, Calif. in 2001. (AP)

A giant “at” sign is shown in front of the ExciteAtHome headquarters in Redwood City, Calif. in 2001. (AP)

The digital age has made a celebrity of the “at” sign, but the symbol’s roots go far back.

According to the Museum of Modern Art in New York (MoMA), in the 5th or 6th century monks used it as shorthand for the Latin word “ad” meaning “toward.”

In the 16th century, Venetian traders used it to represent a standard of measure.

Ray Tomlinson. @. 1971. Here displayed in ITC American Typewriter Medium, the closest approximation to the character used by a Model 33 Teletype in the early 1970s. (Courtesy MoMA)

Ray Tomlinson. @. 1971. Here displayed in ITC American Typewriter Medium, the closest approximation to the character used by a Model 33 Teletype in the early 1970s. (Courtesy MoMA)

The “at” sign then found its way onto the American Underwood typewriter, and it was later used in accounting and now has become the signifier of the digital age.

Now the MoMA says it has acquired the symbol for its permanent Architecture and Design collection.

Paola Antonelli, Senior Curator in the Department of Architecture and Design, explained what the acquisition means on MoMA.org:

The acquisition of @…relies on the assumption that physical possession of an object as a requirement for an acquisition is no longer necessary, and therefore it sets curators free to tag the world and acknowledge things that “cannot be had”—because they are too big (buildings, Boeing 747’s, satellites), or because they are in the air and belong to everybody and to no one, like the @—as art objects befitting MoMA’s collection. The same criteria of quality, relevance, and overall excellence shared by all objects in MoMA’s collection also apply to these entities.

 

Guest:


Please follow our community rules when engaging in comment discussion on this site.
Robin and Jeremy

Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

September 18 Comment

Terry Gilliam Goes Back To The Dystopian Future

Terry Gilliam's new film, "The Zero Theorem" will be familiar to his fans.

September 18 5 Comments

DJ Sessions: Kansas’ ‘Retro Cocktail Hour’

"Space age pop" and "incredibly strange music" are the songs of the day on this installment of the DJ Sessions.

September 17 21 Comments

Volkswagen’s 300 MPG Car

The XL-1 can get 300 miles per gallon. The key is reducing wind resistance.

September 17 41 Comments

How Has The Obesity Epidemic Disrupted Romance?

The health impacts of the obesity epidemic are well-documented. Less studied are its ramifications for romance.