Thursday, August 28, 2008

Eirnovation

To paraphrase Goebbels (or was it Göring?): every time I hear the phrase 'Ireland must become a knowledge economy' I reach for my sneer. I know, I shouldn't: sneering is very immature (however satisfying it might be at the time). But really: do these people get out much? Admittedly I'm in a bad mood - eircom 'announced' they were upgrading our office broadband service yesterday at 2 hours notice, saying our email and broadband would be disconnected for 3 hours (like it or lump it), and then 7 hours later they told us normal service won't be resumed for another five days. And here's the thing: our office is brand new, and built beside the National Digital Park: I'd find it funny if I wasn't so busy sneering ...

But this isn't a rant against eircom (okay, just a little). It's really about: how the hell are we going to build an economy for the 21st century that employs all those willing to work and provides everyone else with a standard of living that is appropriate, when we can't even provide reasonably priced, fairly reliable broadband services to the likes of companies like mine? Seriously, we're kidding ourselves if we think we are at the starting blocks never mind leading the pack. Reflect on just one example from my recent holiday in the United States: we took a ferry over to Martha's Vineyard off Cape Cod and en route the captain made the usual announcements about safety, life jackets etc etc and then added "we also have free wifi on the lower deck, the middle deck and the upper deck". I soon connected my Nokia N95 and was surfing online for free a kilometre out to sea at speeds (and more conveniently) than I could in central Dublin. I'm really trying not to sneer ...

So what do we do? Perhaps we do nothing. Or rather: we just leave it to today's youth to sort it out. For example, within a few hours of realising the mess eircom had left us in my younger colleagues at work had set up a company gmail account (amarachresearch (at) gmail (dot) com) using a mobile broadband connection and a laptop so key documents could be sent to and received from clients. It wasn't my idea - but I did feel rather proud of them for their inventiveness (and extremely grateful to Vodafone/Google).

It's that inventiveness and comfort with technology that bodes well for our future I feel. We just need to ramp it up a bit. Maybe we need an Irish solution to an Irish problem - not so much innovation as 'eirnovation'? And though it goes against every ideological cell in my libertarian body to say it: I'd even be open to something radical along the lines of the Government buying and floating a satellite over the country in order to provide 'free' all-you-can-eat broadband internet access to every wifi modem/mobile handset in the country. Whatever the hell it takes to get us over the crippling barriers to developing world-class digital businesses that we now face in Ireland.

Okay, that was a bit of rant - sorry: normal service will be resumed in, er, five days time ...

PS: the image is from an extraordinary photo journal called Invisible Journals by Oli Laurelle which visualises information about wifi networks on various trips by her around Europe - I wonder what the picture for Ireland would be like ...?

1 comment:

  1. Wholeheartedly agree (for a change :-) ) There is a ton of rhetoric about Ireland's fabled knowledge economy and at the end of the day it's going to take hard graft and innovation from the bottom up to see it done. At which point the politicians will pat each other on the back and congratute themselves on what a good job they did. At the moment, if it gets going, it'll be more in spite of them than because of them. That said, thumbs up to the good people in Enterprise Ireland.

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