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8 January 1998 Edition

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Technological New Year

By Laurence McKeown

Wouldn't it be great if I had one of those voice-operated word processors. I could lie in bed these dark mornings and dictate an article to the machine, confident that it would accept my every word. You will note I said `morning', Wednesday morning to be exact, and the editor has a deadline to go to print this afternoon. Aah, living life on the edge. But don't be conned into believing that working under pressure produces the most creative material. Just read on for proof of that.

In these days of e-mail, the internet and cyber space the whole language and method of communication has changed rapidly yet things technological are as yet fairly uneven in their application. For instance, An Phoblacht reputedly has one of the best web-sites on the internet, (You don't have to take my word for it but the opinion of Sue Denham of the Sunday Times among others on the matter is worth considering). Yet these articles still go through a tedious process before appearing in print. For instance, after I have written this, edited it, checked it for mistakes, I then print it and fax it to the office where Tina has to re-type it onto the computers there.

The same process of checking for typing errors and mistakes must then be undergone for the second time. How much simpler it would be at the other end if I could just e-mail the article directly onto the computer in the An Phoblacht office. Tina, I'm sure, could spend her time more productively on other matters. Engage the editor for instance in lengthy debates about his editorial decisions, or just have a cup of tea on what must be a very hectic day. Consider also that it is not just my article that undergoes this process but most of what appears in the paper.

Before you all write off to Mala Poist in support of my suggestion for e-mail facilities at this end I should point out that the matter is already in hand. I have it from a good source that the issue is being pursued with some degree of urgency. A New Year resolution, you could call it.

These meandering thoughts on technology and how it aids communication were prompted by listening to a programme about the internet and how, for instance, the world's largest book store in the USA is operated entirely through the internet. Compare that with the other revelation on the programme which is that a new form of spring-operated win-up radio is going to have the biggest technological impact on African countries this year. The contrast is incredible. It's not really that the world is getting smaller in terms of speed of travel and communication but that the rich, developed world is getting smaller and more competitive.

I've mixed views about the wind-up radio, not in terms of technology - in that regard I think the simplest is always best - but in terms of the impact it will have upon the culture of the people. Is the drive behind this development to enhance that culture and bring the pleasure of indigenous music, drama, politics and entertainment to the masses or is it to brainwash them with Coca Cola culture?

Whatever the motivation though, I believe it is better that we move with the times and incorporate new technological developments into our culture and lifestyle where it is appropriate and resist that conservative streak within us all to wish to stick with what we are familiar and comfortable with.

Speaking of the old and familiar I do believe that more basic forms of power and technology may still be relevant in this most modern of worlds, the north of Ireland. As a personal contribution to the peace process I suggest we purchase some quantity of these spring-operated radios, tune them into Radio Eireann, 2FM, Radio na Gaeltachta, BBC Radio 4 (basically any station other than Radio Ulster), wind them up full, remove the key and post them to prominent unionists. Continued exposure to views other than how high are Derry's walls, how wide is the Boyne and the philosophical debate about how many Orangemen you can fit into the graveyard of the church at Drumcree would, I think, be effective. The other alternative of course is to send copies of the Tellytubbies videos - but I would prefer to use the carrot rather than the stick.

An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1

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