The Internet was developed during the 1980s by the US National Science Foundation to provide shared time on supercomputers for American universities and research centres, but with the development of microcomputers of increasing power it has eventually grown to encompass billions of other computer users worldwide.
E-mail (or electronic mail) is a system that allows messages to be sent from and received by personal computers via a computer network or a telephone connection. In tandem with the development of the Internet, e-mail has revolutionized the speed with which information can be transmitted and shared. As the art historian, Oliver Grau writes: 'The scale of recent and current encroachment of media and technology into the workplace and work processes is a far greater upheaval than other epochs have known' (2003: 3). These advances continue to be enormously valuable for researchers in all disciplines, who can now instantly access a wealth of information on-line and take advantage of the speed and flexibility of e-mail as a method of communication.
The e-mail interview has three applications: the main one being when the respondent is too busy to meet or lives in another city or country. In these circumstances, an e-mail interview can create access to people whose testimony would otherwise be difficult to record.
The second important use of the e-mail interview is when it is the preferred option of an interviewee who is reluctant to participate in a face-to-face or telephone interview. When the interview subject is diffident or apprehensive about the pressure to perform articulately in a 'live' situation, the e-mail interview can be offered as an alternative. Less intimate than more traditional interview techniques, it allows respondents to participate from a distance and