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How do you capture something as formless as the internet in a museum gallery? Anna Ward investigates, with some insight into how we interviewed email pioneer Ray Tomlinson from across the Atlantic.

In March 2012 our new gallery Life Online opens. Work starts later this month to transform the foyer area of the museum. (Don’t worry Games Lounge fans, a revamped lounge will appear upstairs.)

The idea of the Life Online gallery has been around for several years. The core team—Joe Brook, Tom Woolley, and Sarah Crowther—have been beavering away since 2007 collecting content, shaping ideas and trying to work out how on earth to capture something so formless in a museum setting.

The last year has seen the gallery really coming together and, with the help of industry and academic experts, we have managed to pin down what we will say in the gallery and what it will look like.

Tom Woolley and Anna Ward

I came on board last April and have been helping the curators get their ideas down on paper, collect the images we’d like you to see, and capture on film some of the people who helped make the internet what it is today.

I was very excited last week to set up an interview with Ray Tomlinson.

Back in 1971, Ray invented something most of us use every day without much thought (I for one would be lost without it)—email. Ray sent the very first email.

He lives in Boston—and our budgets don’t stretch that far, so, very much in keeping with a gallery all about the internet, Tom, Emma Shaw (our media developer) and I piled into Emma’s office, set up a laptop and interviewed Ray via Skype.

I didn’t think I would be so excited, but it was a real thrill when the webcam panned around and focused on Ray. He’s a really lovely man who has obviously been interviewed many times before; very professional and succinct with his answers—it couldn’t have gone better.

Ray Tomlinson and Tom Woolley

We received an email after the interview saying that Ray had very much enjoyed it and that the idea of using Skype was a great one. Yay team and yay for Ray!

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