The technology firsts that have shaped modern life as we know it

A landmark moment.
A landmark moment.
Image: Reuters/Kimberly White
We may earn a commission from links on this page.

There’s a first time for everything, as the saying goes. It might feel like we’ve been sending email attachments forever, but actually the first one happened less than 20 years ago. AOL instant messaging, the beloved and one-time ubiquitous chat interface, only got started in 1993 when a future AOL executive messaged his wife: “Don’t be scared … it is me.”

Quartz dug up these and other technology “firsts” that paved the way for modern life as we know it. The first mobile phone call, the first website, the first tweet. Enjoy.

1971: Computer scientist Ray Tomlinson sends the first email and chooses the @ symbol to separate the user from the host name in the mailing address. Tomlinson, who died in March 2016, didn’t recall the content of that first email, saying it was “something like QWERTYUIOP.”

April 3, 1973: The first mobile phone call is made by Motorola employee Martin Cooper. He doesn’t exactly remember the conversation, but says, “‘I’m ringing you just to see if my call sounds good at your end,’ or something to that effect.”

March 15, 1985: Symbolics Computer Corporation registers the first ever domain on the internet, The website is now owned by small investor group in Irvine, Calif., and is dedicated to tracking domain registration statistics.

March 11, 1992: Bell Communications Research staffer Nathaniel Borenstein sends the first email attachment, a photo of a staff barbershop quartet he was a member of, “The Telephone Chords,” to an Internet Engineering Task Force mailing list for email standards. Borenstein is credited as the co-creator of the Multipurpose Internet Mail Extensions (MIME) standard, which makes email attachments possible.

November 1992: The first website—which is literally a website explaining the concept of a website— goes online. It’s created by Tim Berners-Lee, a researcher at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN).

Jan. 6, 1993: Future AOL executive Ted Leonsis sends the first AOL instant message to his wife: “Don’t be scared … it is me. Love you and miss you.” She responds: “Wow … this is so cool!”

April 3, 1995: California-based software engineer John Wainwright buys the first book sold on Amazon, “Fluid Concepts and Creative Analogies: Computer Models of the Fundamental Mechanisms of Thought,” for $27.95. There’s now a building named after him on Amazon’s Seattle campus.

September 1995: Pierre Omidyar lists a broken laser pointer for sale on his website AuctionWeb. It sold to a collector of broken laser pointers for $14.83, launching the website which would become eBay.

June 11, 1997: Entrepreneur Philippe Kahn didn’t want to wait to tell the world about his new baby—so he invented the camera phone while his wife was in labor at a Santa Cruz maternity ward. He linked a digital camera to a Motorola StarTAC flip phone using his laptop and a few lines of code. When he approached Kodak and Polaroid with the idea, they scoffed, unable to imagine a phone used for anything but voice.

1999: Shigetaka Kurita designed the original mobile-first media, emoji, as 12×12-pixel images meant to be displayed on cell phones. The first collection included 176 emoji using only 6 colors.

Nov. 3, 2000: An internet enthusiast registers the first domain on GoDaddy and later joins the company as an employee.

April 2003: An Estonian developer asks “Tere, kas sa kuuled mind?,” or “Hello, can you hear me?” the first sentence spoken over Skype.

May 7, 2003: LinkedIn launches with co-founder Jean-Luc Vaillant’s profile as the oldest one on the social network for career networking.

Feb. 4, 2004: Harvard student Mark Zuckerberg launches, taking profile number 4 for himself. (Profiles 1-3 are speculated to be tests.)

April 23, 2005: The first video, “Me at the zoo,” is published to YouTube by co-founder Jawed Karim. Shot in front of a pair of elephants, it now has more than 40 million views.

June 23, 2005: Co-founder Alexis Ohanian posted the first link on Reddit under his username “kn0thing.” He has continued to post under that username for the 12 years since.

March 21, 2006: Twitter co-founder and now-CEO Jack Dorsey kicked off the service by telling the world what he was up to: just setting up his twttr account.

Jan. 9, 2007: Steve Jobs, wearing his signature black turtleneck, unveils the first iPhone on stage at the Macworld conference in San Francisco.

October 2007: Indian design student Amol Surve becomes the first person to stay in an Airbnb, an airbed hosted by Airbnb co-founders Brian Chesky and Joe Gebbia in San Francisco.

February 2008: Tesla delivers its first production electric vehicle, the Roadster, to its then headquarters in San Carlos, California.

March 1, 2008: The first order is placed on Grubhub for Pete’s Pizza at 1am in Chicago, costing $22.71.

July 20, 2009: Venmo engineer Harish Venkatesan pays founder Andrew Kortina $10 “for lunch” after eating at a Thai restaurant. They both get SMS notifications verifying the payment.

May 17, 2010: Software developer Laszlo Hanyecz completes the first commercial bitcoin transaction—10,000 bitcoins to have two large pizzas delivered from Papa John’s in Florida. The coins, worth about $30 at the time, would be valued at $40 million today.

May 31, 2010: Uber launches in San Francisco and completes one of its first trips, a 10-minute, 5-mile ride from the Dogpatch to North Beach neighborhoods, around 8pm.

July 16, 2010: Instagram CEO and founder Kevin Systrom launches the social media platform with a post not unlike millions that would follow it: A shot of a cute dog.

Aug. 3, 2012: The Los Angeles-based Tinder team makes a test match before the app’s formal launch.