When Paola Antonelli, Senior Curator, Department of Architecture and Design at MoMA spoke at Science Gallery late last year she explained the cultural significance of the @ symbol and why they had acquired it as part of their collection. This was interesting on two counts — firstly it does not fall into the category of physical object, something we are more comfortable with as the content of a museum collection, and secondly it highlighted the sign’s significance and function and how it has become an important part of our identity in communicating with others. It’s history is pretty interesting… In January 1971, Ray Tomlinson, an American programmer who was working on ARPAnet an early network from which the Internet emerged, used it as the natural division within the first e-mail message sent. And the rest as they say is history.
It seems that the # symbol may be heading in the same direction. In a recent New York Times article Susan Orlean explores its re-appropriation in Twitter and now general ‘hashtagery’. Usually used to identify phrases or names within a search it has now crept out of this role and can be seem as a way of identifying a side comment in various communication. It can also be seen used as a more sophisticated version of the emoticon… ‘#nice’. Perhaps the limitation of 140 characters and a few symbols is good discipline in more creative communication.