Paola Antonelli, Senior Curator @ Department of Architecture and Design at MoMA announces that the museum has just acquired the @ symbol for the collection.
In January 1971 electrical engineer Ray Tomlinson, who helped create the first email system, determined that @ was an underused jargon symbol lingering on the
keyboard and marred by a very limited register. “By October, Tomlinson appropriated it, imbuing it with new meaning and
elevating it to defining symbol of the computer age,” notes Antonelli @ the MoMA blog. “He chose the @ for
his first email because of its strong locative sense; an individual,
identified by a username, is @ this institution/computer/server, and
also because…it was already there, on the keyboard, and nobody ever used
“The acquisition of @ takes one more step. It 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.”
This is, of course, a big deal in terms of collecting precious objects in the digital age: “There is no need to physically possess,” Antonelli told me. “After this, the world is ours to tag and collect.”
Daily Heller, Imprint: Print Magazine's Design Blog

About Steven Heller

Steven Heller is the co-chair of the SVA MFA Designer /Designer as Author + Entrepreneur program, writes frequently for Wired and Design Observer. He is also the author of over 170 books on design and visual culture. He received the 1999 AIGA Medal and is the 2011 recipient of the Smithsonian National Design Award.

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