Shiva Ayyadurai, an American scientist of Indian origin, recently came back into reckoning on the Internet space as being the inventor of e-mail. The story goes that when he was 14, Ayyadurai developed a full-scale emulation of the interoffice mail system, which he called and patented under the name: EMAIL. Working for the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, he observed that the desktop of each secretary, in addition to the typewriter, had an inbox, an outbox, drafts, carbon paper, folders, an address book, paper clips etc., which formed part of their mailing system.
 So when he created an online version of the mailing system, Ayyadurai replicated all these features into his system, and he called it EMAIL. This has led many people to claim that he was the inventor of e-mail as we know it.
 However, the true history of email places it at least a decade before Ayyadurai developed his interoffice mailing system. Electronic mail has been in use at MIT for almost fifteen years, and Compuserve was already selling email access to the public. By 1978, the year in which Ayyadurai claims to have ‘invented’ it, email was already present in almost its current form, with all the features we’re familiar with today, including emoticons, flame wars, mailing lists and spam.
 While it is impressive that Ayyadurai developed an electronic mailing system in his early teens, he did not develop anything that was not already present in practice, so he did not ‘invent’ anything. As a writer, Sam Biddle, said while writing about this issue: creating a type of airplane named AIRPLANE doesn’t make you Wilbur Wright.

Kanishtha Thapa

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