The Museum of Modern Art has added the typographical symbol @ to their design collection. MoMa’s chief design curator, Paola Antonelli, explains that “the @ is more ancient than you might think–Some scholars think it was invented over 1,300 years ago, as a way to reduce the Latin word “ad”–which means “at”, “to”, or “toward”–into a single penstroke.” (read full text here) In the 20th century it was considered an “oddity of typography” on most keyboards – utterly useless.
However, the @ has been revolutionized. We could not function every day life without the @ – all because of Twitter and email.
Ray Tomlinson, a computer engineer who helped create the world’s first email system and is “the man who created email” according to NPR. He thought to use the @ symbol as a way to permit cross-server email routing. Tomlinson changed the rules of how the @ symbol was portrayed. Antonelli continues saying that Tomlinson “performed a powerful act of design that not only forever changed the @ sign’s significance and function, but which also has become an important part of our identity in relationship and communication with others.”
I find it interesting that something we consider an ubiquitous symbol finds placement in an renowned art museum. It reminds me of Found Art, making art out of everyday, familiar objects.