[ih] Historical Tracing from Concept to Reality over 5 decades?

Miles Fidelman mfidelman at meetinghouse.net
Tue Jul 7 09:21:35 PDT 2020

On 7/6/20 6:55 PM, Dave Crocker via Internet-history wrote:
> On 7/6/2020 1:59 PM, Craig Partridge wrote:
>> On Mon, Jul 6, 2020 at 2:24 PM Dave Crocker via Internet-history 
>> <internet-history at elists.isoc.org 
>> <mailto:internet-history at elists.isoc.org>> wrote:
>>     On the other hand, Ray's opportunistic cleverness definitely /was/
>>     accidental.  Especially as compared against the more elaborate
>>     (cumbersome) approach others were considering.  But again, that's a
>>     matter of the low-level detail.
>> I think this undersells Ray's insight/genius. 
> I consider "opportunistic cleverness" to be high praise.
> Besides that, my experience growing up in that environment, where 
> pretty much everyone would likely be called genius by regular folk, 
> was that no one used that word.  I quickly noted that they simply said 
> someone was clever...
>> Sometimes what makes something go from intellectual concept to 
>> reality is someone figuring out how to make the something simple.  
>> And Ray found a way to make email simple, and easy to use, and it 
>> exploded.  And then it exploded again when Vittal created MSG and 
>> "Answer" [modern Reply].
> Yup.
> What has been interesting is seeing that some people seem to naturally 
> gravitate towards powerful simplicity.
> From later discussions with Ray, it was clear to me that his process, 
> back in 1971, of reacting to the surrounding discussions that were 
> proposing a rather complicated, cumbersome email system -- including 
> printing messages onto paper and delivering them to people's desks -- 
> was not an elaborate sequence of thinking through a set of issues, 
> formulating careful design considerations, and engineering an 
> integrated system.
> Rather it was a simple moment of the insight you cite: Just make what 
> really was a tiny increment, linking two existing mechanisms of 
> messaging and network file copying.
> And I don't undersell the importance of that at all.
I still remember arriving at MIT, as a freshman, in 1971 - got an 
account on the AI Lab ITS machine, and then a month or so later, Ray 
Tomlinson invents email as we know it, and a few months later, it's 
everywhere.  The next four years were a front row seat to the ARPANET 
changing everything - virtual teams & communities, e-publishing, 
e-learning, e-commerce (RFPs, proposals, reports via email), governance 
models (the predecessors of the IETF), ...

Lots of trial and error, but INSPIRED trial & error.

Also.. don't underestimate the power of simple, yet powerful, concepts - 
just witness the continued dominance of email & email lists, vs. all 
kind of more structured communications tools.  Connectivity & 
Interoperability, then stop.



In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice.
In practice, there is.  .... Yogi Berra

Theory is when you know everything but nothing works.
Practice is when everything works but no one knows why.
In our lab, theory and practice are combined:
nothing works and no one knows why.  ... unknown

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