We’ve Got Mail!

Photo: Jeff Miller

Travel back with us now into the shadows of ancient history, to the year A.D. 1993. That fall, the UW took a great leap forward in terms of communication, when, for the first time, the university offered all students email accounts.

We’re not sure how students communicated before this. Legend says that they used smoke signals, or perhaps they beat out coded rhythms on drums made of dinosaur hide. Or maybe it just feels that way — it’s difficult to imagine a time when the @ symbol was one of the least-used keys on the board.

Email wasn’t exactly new in 1993. The Madison Academic Computing Center (one of the forerunner organizations of today’s Division of Information Technology) began supporting a few accounts as early as 1978. But it wasn’t until ’93 that email became a general perk. And while not all Badgers took advantage right away, about a quarter of the student body (around 9,500 people) had signed up by December. That was enough to occupy a pool of modems using 200 telephone lines. In January 1994, the service was extended to faculty and staff, and campus hasn’t looked back.

You may think: big deal. Students text nowadays, so isn’t email old hat? But email remains a primary method of communication for students and faculty. The UW’s wiscmail server processes 2 million messages a day and supports 100,000 active accounts. In addition, the university’s Learn@UW online support system helps 2,000 instructors to manage online course content every semester. The Wisconsin Experience is increasingly an online experience, and it all started with email.

The photo above was taken in 1996 in Bradley Hall, and it shows Carrie Johnson ’99, Alisha White ’99, and Heather Hazelwood ’00, JD’11 waiting their turn to check email. Their posture indicates that, then as now, the arrival of a message in any format is exciting.

Published in the Summer 2013 issue

Tags: Alumni, Campus history, Residence Halls, social media, Student life, technology

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