Digital Media · Human-ities · Technology

The Accidental History of the @ Symbol

Called the “snail” by Italians and the “monkey tail” by the Dutch, @ is the sine qua non of electronic communication, thanks to e-mail addresses and Twitter handles. @ has even been inducted into the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art, which cited its modern use as an example of “elegance, economy, intellectual transparency, and a sense of the possible future directions that are embedded in the arts of our time.”

The origin of the symbol itself, one of the most graceful characters on the keyboard, is something of a mystery. One theory is that medieval monks, looking for shortcuts while copying manuscripts, converted the Latin word for “toward”—ad—to “a” with the back part of the “d” as a tail. Or it came from the French word for “at”—à—and scribes, striving for efficiency, swept the nib of the pen around the top and side. Or the symbol evolved from an abbreviation of “each at”—the “a” being encased by an “e.” The first documented use was in 1536, in a letter by Francesco Lapi, a Florentine merchant, who used @ to denote units of wine called amphorae, which were shipped in large clay jars.

Excerpt of an article by William F. Allman, Smithsonian. Continue HERE

Design · Paint/Illust./Mix-Media · Performativity

The Accidental Futurist: Steven M. Johnson’s Alternate Realities

Steven M. Johnson (b. 1938) is a former urban planner and future trends analyst from California, who defines himself in terms of Chinese astrology as a tiger “with a tendency to rush forward, defend the weak, and be foolishly brave.” Since the early 1970s, he has been creating scores of alternative products and systems—on paper—that he hopes will benefit “or at least amuse” his fellow consumer-citizens. “His ideas, and his methods for arriving at ideas, are somewhat unique,” he writes in the third person on his website. “He has perhaps benefited from having had little formal instruction in art, nor training in engineering or industrial design. Curious images have filled his mind during weekends and odd free moments.”

Excerpt of an article written by Steven Heller at The Atlantic. Continue HERE