Email didn’t really take off until the 1990s, but confused iPhone users have reported receiving messages supposedly from 1970 in their inbox.
The glitch appears to affect users of email apps on the iOS operating system that the iPhone and iPad run on, and sees them receive empty messages dated January 1, 1970.
The emails have no subject or sender, and opening them yields nothing. Their existence, however, appears to be down to an iPhone glitch, rather than anything more malicious.
Nor are they a mischievous attempt to try to get iPhone users to reset their device’s date to January 1, 1970, a bug that will break the phone possibly beyond repair, despite the similarities in date.
The emails often appear when iPhone users are checking their emails in a different timezone. January 1, 1970 represents 0 in UNIX time – the way that computers often understand times and dates. One Reddit user who reported it appeared to be using Microsoft’s Outlook app.
Every second since midnight on January 1 1970 is a different point in UNIX time (we’re currently at around 1.45 billion). So when an email is sent without any time data, or a timezone bug means it can’t be interpreted, the iPhone will default to zero – 1970.
The same reliance on UNIX time is why some iPhone owners have reported that changing the phone’s date back to 1970 will brick the phone – rendering it useless.
Last month several iPhone users were fooled into setting their date to 1970 on their iPhones only to find them unusable.
Users who have seen the email bug have reported fixing it by closing the email app and performing a hard reset on the iPhone – done by holding down the lock and home button until it resets.
Of course, nobody ever received an email in 1970. The first electronic message between computers is widely held to have been sent in 1971, by email pioneer Ray Tomlinson.
Tomlinson, who died on Saturday aged 74, sent the first message on the ARPANET system, a precursor to the internet, at research company Bolt, Beranek and Newman, and was integral to many of the standards including the use of the @ symbol.
It wasn’t until the 1990s, with help from software such as Lotus Notes and Microsoft’s Internet Mail, followed swiftly by web-based services, that email became widely adopted.