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Celebrating @ as the Symbol of the Computer Age

Celebrating @ as the Symbol of the Computer Age

New York's Museum of Modern Art has officially added the "@" to its architecture and design collection.

Senior curator of the museum, Paola Antonelli feels the symbol has changed the way we use language and text, saying, "physical possession of an object as a requirement for an acquisition is no longer necessary."

He said that this symbol is groundbreaking as it has "set curators free to tag the world" whether they are too large to bring into the museum or even abstract concepts that are hard to recreate.

"Germans, Poles, and South Africans call @ 'monkey's tail' in each different language. Norwegians see a pig's tail, Chinese a little mouse, and Italians and the French, a snail. For the Russians @ symbolizes a dog, while the Finnish know @ as the 'miukumauku', meaning the 'sign of the meow,' and believe that the symbol is inspired by a curled-up sleeping cat. The @ symbol has become so significant that people feel they need to make sense of it; hence it has inspired its own folkloric tradition"

Although Antonelli has traced the history of the symbol back to 16th century Venice when it referred to a measurement vessel, he has attributed its current meaning to Ray Tomlinson in 1971. He says that it is Tomlinson who recreated the meaning of this symbol for the computer age.

"Its potential for such succinct negotiations (whether between man and machine, or between traditional gender classifications and the current spectrum) and its range of application continue to expand. It has truly become a way of expressing society's changing technological and social relationships, expressing new forms of behavior and interaction in a new world."


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