Rest in peace, Queen Elizabeth II – Britain's first high-tech monarch

HME2 signs off

Obit Queen Elizabeth Alexandra Mary Windsor has died, ending the reign of Britain's longest-serving monarch. She was 96.

During her 70 years on the British throne, Queen Elizabeth II oversaw reshaping the monarchy from an austere, closed-off establishment into a more public-facing institution, both in person and via the use of technology. Her coronation in 1953 was the first of its kind to be televised, and she was an early adopter of the internet, although it's reported she didn't write her emails herself but dictated them.

It's hard to imagine but about 100 years before the Queen's birth in 1926, we were relying on messengers on horseback, prior to the invention of the telegraph in and around the 1830s and its subsequent proliferation – not to mention the invention of radio at the end of the century. At the time of her passing, the world is a much smaller place, communications-wise, and the official announcement was made by her family online.

Queen Elizabeth was never really supposed to be a monarch, but she was thrust into the job while in her 20s following the abdication of King Edward VIII in 1936 and the early death of her father King George VI. She ascended to the throne in 1952 and since then presided as head of state, commander in chief of the UK military and head of the Church of England. For those Brits under the age of 70 she's the only monarch the country has ever known, making this the end of an era.

She was also a dab hand at machines, working during World War II on the home front servicing vehicles with the Auxiliary Territorial Service and continuing to do so with her beloved Land Rover, in which she once terrified Saudi King Abdullah by taking him out for a spin as a woman driver. She also made her first broadcast via radio in 1940 offering comfort to children evacuated from London during the first Blitz of the war.

Despite receiving little in the way of formal education, the Queen took it upon herself to get educated and that included learning about technology. Britain was at the forefront of technological innovation in the early years of her reign and she had a keen interest in the way things were progressing, and in particular adored Concorde, even apparently imitating its landing sounds to friends.

On March 26, 1976, the Queen became one of the first heads of state to use email. The late Peter Kirstein pioneered Britain's adoption of TCP/IP and Her Majesty was invited to the Royal Signals and Radar Establishment to view the first introduction of the ARPANET network to the UK.

Given the username HME2 (Her Majesty, Elizabeth II) by Kirstein, she logged in and sent an email with the signature Elizabeth R. Kirstein recalled that the text was prewritten and – given the topic – that's understandable, though it was a historic step.

"This message to all ARPANET users announces the availability on ARPANET of the Coral 66 compiler provided by the GEC 4080 computer at the Royal Signals and Radar Establishment, Malvern, England," it read. "Coral 66 is the standard real-time high level language adopted by the Ministry of Defence.

Her husband, the late Prince Philip, was less tech savvy. In an infamous case, his personal account on Prestel (a precursor to the modern web and internet) was compromised by journalists Steve Gold and Robert Schifreen, which led to the introduction of the UK's Computer Misuse Act 1990 after his family's lawyers failed to get a prosecution under the Forgery & Counterfeiting Act.

Given the traditionalism that is baked into the royal family, or The Firm as she called it, the Queen eschewed online communications for official messages. But on October 24, 2014 she sent her first tweet and in 2019 followed that up by joining Instagram. 

She was reportedly a big fan of tablet computers, having been introduced to those fondleslabs by her grandsons William and Harry. As someone who was born in an age where computers were room-sized, the speed of innovation certainly outpaced the institution she was born into.

Tributes have poured in, including from UK Prime Minister Liz Truss, who said the Queen "was the rock" on which modern Britain was built; and from US President Joe Biden, who said the royal was "more than a monarch" and a "stateswoman of unmatched dignity and constancy."

Your humble vulture isn't a monarchist by any means, but if you're going to have a leader chosen by birth lottery, we could have done a whole lot worse. Regarded as the figurehead who kept Britain glued together, and provided the nation with comfort and continuity, she will be missed. Her son will replace her, as King Charles III. ®

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