@ MoMA

So distracted I forgot to post this last night. Realized it as I was drifting off to sleep and too exhausted to come down and reboot the computer.

I love the idea that the Museum of Modern Art has added @ to its architecture and design department.

MoMA posted an explanation of what it was up to, but a substantial percentage of the commenters were really upset. And I’m not sure why. After all “architecture and design” already includes a Q-tip and the chrome flush-valve from a public toilet.

Perhaps it was the fact that MoMA was adding a symbol and not an object. But the museum had done this before, too, with performance art, as Paola Antonelli pointed out in her blog post.

I’ll not be making a special trip to NYC to see @ even though the museum will be featuring it in different typefaces. I can do that on my own computer. Nevertheless I think the idea is brilliant.

I was not impressed, however, with the tongue-in-cheek (I hope) NYTimes consideration of other symbols. $ and & have always been in common use. One of the features of the @ sign that appealed to the MoMA curators was that even though it is thousands of years old, it did not come into daily usage until Ray Tomlinson devised the convention for email messages in 1971, and then it didn’t become ubiquitous until most of the western world acquired personal computers.

Conversely emoticons don’t stand up to the new/old test because the colon, closed parenthesis didn’t exist until the P.C. became even more ubiquitous. I just made the upsetting discovery that when one types that colon with the closed paren, it embeds an ugly little smiley face in the text. Yuk. That little beast is almost as awful as the late unlamented Clippie.

If another symbol is going to join the section, it will probably be #. It’s old: standing for numbers. And it’s new signifying a hash-tag on Twitter.

As far as I can see, there is only one major drawback for the “at” symbol. A search for @ produces almost as many hits as the word Google.


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