I was not around at the beginning of the Internet, but I was close. Despite this proximity, I had nothing to do with its creation, except as the sort of experimental subject represented by an early user.
According to the History of Electronic Mail written by Richard T. Griffiths of Leiden University, the first email message was sent in 1971 by Ray Tomlinson, an Arpanet developer, and basic email facilities were in place around the Arpanet by the summer of 1972. At that time the Arpanet connected some 23 to 40 computers around the United States.
Several of these machines were at MIT, and when I arrived at the MIT Artificial Intelligence Laboratory in 1975, I gained an account on MIT-AI, one of these lucky few. With my account, DOYLE@MIT-AI, came the ability to send and receive email. Years later, the current system of domain and host names was invented and instituted. Under that nomenclature, the old MIT-AI machine would have been ai.mit.edu. I retained the email address DOYLE at mit.edu in later years.
Regrettably, I do not have electronic copies of any of the very first email messages I sent or received. (I might find some paper copies in my archives one of these days.) These likely would have been to or from Bruce Schatz, a friend who came to MIT at the same time, and who showed me the ropes in getting and using an account. Unfortunately, disk space was very limited at that time, so that I always had to delete old mail and file versions to make room for new ones. Accordingly, the oldest copies I have come from some backup files heroically rescued from aging tapes by Pandora Berman and Alan Bawden (thanks!). The oldest message captured on these backups is a message broadcast to all MIT-AI users by Guy Steele on October 6, 1975, bearing the header:
The oldest message recorded directed to me personally came from Kurt Van Lehn on November 16, 1976, bearing the headers:
GLS@MIT-AI 10/06/75 00:04:32 Re: Mathematical Papers from Gosper
KVL@MIT-AI 11/16/76 19:23:08
To: DOYLE at MIT-AI
Such innocent times seem like a dream in these days of hydrant-force streams of spam.