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In praise of the internet

An Cailín Rua

An Cailín Rua
Anne-Marie Flynn

How many weeks now? Eight? Ten? Who knows?
And yet while time drags, so too does it hurtle on. When lockdown began, we were ensconced in woollies and boots, now socially-distant sunbathing in the garden is the done thing of a weekend. Time waits for no pandemic.
Imagine, though, if this had happened 30 or 40 years ago, or if we didn’t have the connectivity we do now? In 2020, the World Wide Web celebrates its 30th birthday, and now we have a generation that has never lived without high-speed internet and mobile phones.
But some of us well remember the days of donkey-slow dial-up, relying on the landline – usually inconveniently located in the most awkwardly public area of the house – to make a phone call, and a time when a Commodore 64 was the closest thing to a computer you could hope for.
Some will say the connectivity is a curse. To others it’s a lifeline. But to most, it’s a tool to access things we may not otherwise be able to – and boy, has there been a few treats.
With local and major festivals being postponed and abandoned, we’ve had ‘virtual’ events taking their place.
Since lockdown began, I’ve heard more live music than I have in years. We’ve had intimate performances by international superstars, live from their own living rooms, but also, intimate performances from young, up-and-coming, lesser-known musicians, also live from their own living rooms, that might otherwise have gone unnoticed.
Bands and choirs of all levels have teamed up to create the most beautiful performances from their spare rooms and garages, perfect harmonies sewn together by gifted sound engineers.
A special mention must go to Mayo’s own Pink Ribbon Sessions, which took place over the May Bank Holiday weekend. Designed to replace the traditional annual Pink Ribbon Cycle, it was a rich feast of some of the finest homegrown musical talent I have ever witnessed, beamed into my own living room. A treat many of us would never had otherwise had the privilege to witness, and immense credit to all who made it happen.
The term ‘virtual’ does events like these a great disservice. It implies they are not real, or somehow ‘lesser’ than a live performance; yet how much more real or authentic can you get than an artist playing a stripped-back concert from their own kitchen?
Now I can watch a folk festival from anywhere in the country or the world, and in turn, hope that viewers from much further afield will avail of the opportunity to enjoy our own arts festival in Ballina later in the year when we take some of it online.
The online sphere has opened up a whole new world. Of course, this brings with it the small matter of how we reward our artists for this entertainment. Three CDs arrived in the post this week. It was only when they appeared that I remembered there isn’t a CD player in the house. Still, we’ll be able to drive more than 5km soon, so there is the car.
The internet has enabled us to still see the faces of our loved ones on a video call, as unsatisfactory as it is at times. It has entertained us, and it has enabled many of us, myself included, to continue to work and keep a wage coming in.
Post-Covid, this new way of working offers areas like ours in the west of Ireland a massive opportunity to avail of remote work, meaning that the brain drain of decades could soon be halted, and decentralisation might yet become a reality.
Grow Remote, a community-led grassroots group that has been promoting remote working opportunities for years now, is on the cusp of a significant expansion, with an increase in remote working opportunities being the aim. Investment will of course be crucial; in co-working spaces and internet infrastructure, but many of the arguments against remote working now have surely been dismantled.
Of course, nothing will ever beat the intimacy of face-to-face, and feeling the warmth of a hug, or losing yourself in the crowd at a live gig, but that will return. Meanwhile, there is nothing ‘virtual’ about the online activity of recent weeks. At times, it’s been every bit as good as the real thing.