@ MoMA


This post went up in 2010 but was swallowed by the great Bluehost maw. It’s been a punctuation sort of week, so here’s the repost.

I love the idea that the Museum of Modern Art has added @ to its architecture and design department. MoMA explained what it was up to, but a substantial percentage of the commenters were upset, some vitriolic. I’m not sure why. After all the “architecture and design” area 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 did this before, too, with performance art, as Paola Antonelli pointed out in her blog post. Surely it’s not because no money changed hands.

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.

The tongue-in-cheek NYTimes consideration of other symbols fails. $ and & have always been in common use. One of the appealing features of @ for the curators was its ancient, neglected heritage. It is thousands of years old but did not come into daily use until Ray Tomlinson devised the convention for email messages in 1971. Then it didn’t become ubiquitous till most of the western world acquired personal computers.

Conversely, emoticons don’t stand up to the new/old test because the colon with closed parenthesis added 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 approaches the dreadfulness of the late unlamented Clippie.

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

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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