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“Ireland in the Information Age, will be a unique community” – An argument against the motion.

“Ireland in the Information Age, will be a unique community.” In that one statement, our argument can be proven! That statement is about five years old. The information age is here, it is now! Let me ask you a question, could you tell the difference between a teenager from America or one from Ireland, could you tell the difference between a business man from London and a business man from Dublin? What does that suggest to you? To me, it suggests that Ireland is no longer a unique community. I’ll not deny that Ireland was once a very unique and individual community, it was! But in this information age, where the distance between two places is no longer of any concern, there are very few unique communities. The world has shrunk to the size of an electrical signal, a telephone tone and in this cramped world there is little chance for individualism when the emphasis is placed on networking, globalisation and economic union.

At the begginning of 2002, the new euros will start to be distributed throughout the different countries that are taking part in the new currency. This is an analogy of the different societies and communities throughout the world which are being merged into one! It has many different names, Americanisation, Globalisation etc. But there is no denying that it exists nor that it is not present in Ireland. In the words of Yeats:

“Romantic Ireland’s dead and gone,
It’s with O’Leary in the grave.”

“Where the Information Society is embraced…..to create employment, wealth and vibrant, inclusive communities.” It sounds great, doesn’t it? Ah…utopian dreams, gives me hope! But we’re here not to dream, but to face the cold, harsh reality! We all know that this is a very nice dream or vision, but that is all it is. I’ll admit that some parts of it appear to have become real, but in reality it is only an appearance, a mirage.

Sure, there has been a new surge of employment, the number of unemployed hasn’t been so low in many’s a year. Indeed a lot of this employment has been created because of this Information Age that we live in. Ireland is the largest exporter of software in the world, this would suggest to me a lot of people are working because of the Information Age. But I ask you, how safe and secure are these jobs? It’s a mirage! The jobs are there for a while and then when you least expect it they disappear! It was only last Friday that Iona Technologies, which started off right here in Trinity College, confirmed that 30 people were laid off at Iona’s Dublin Office. A further 145 people have lost their jobs overseas. But not only is it a few jobs that are in risk of being lost. Michael Noonan, the Fine Gael Leader, has voiced concerns that 10,000 jobs in the technology sector in Ireland, could be lost over the coming months. 10,000! I’ll let that sink in, 10,000, that’s a lot of jobs! Now, how real do you think that employment is? “Where the Information Society is embraced…..to create employment,” this is a part of the vision, which we may all be waking up from, very soon.

Then there is the question of wealth. For the last number of years, the media have been proclaiming the presence of a Celtic Tiger, some have praised it, others criticised it and indeed some have feared it. However the general consensus is that in this Information Age, a lot of wealth has been created. I would ask you to look more closely, for this as before is not real, it is an appartition.

I will not argue that incomes have increased, they have; but so also has the cost of living! Sure, more people are taking home larger pay packets, but in the face of inflation, these pay cheques can be deflated in their real value! The cost of buying a house has never been so high! First time buyers, couples wishing to start their lives together, have little to no chance of getting a house, and if they do, they will be paying off the mortgage not just for 20 – 30 years, but for the rest of their lives. Inflation in Ireland is the highest in any European country and according to a recent report will remain that way for a number of years to come. We only think that this information age is creating wealth in Ireland, the sad truth of it is that it isn’t!

Not only this, but one has only to look at the streets of Dublin, to see the homeless, those who have been left out of this wealth. There is truth in the statement, that the rich get richer whilst the poor get poorer! If wealth is being created in Ireland, then why is there still so many people who can still not even afford the basic necessities. Add to that the emphasis that the Information Age places on new technologies and you will find a lot of people who are just getting by and also those who are deep in debt. Are they wealthy??

“Vibrant, inclusive communities!” Where? hmmm….where? I don’t know of any vibrant, inclusive communities! I do however know of bland, exclusive communities. Perhaps you think me a cynic, perhaps so. But then again, one has only to look at the present state of Ireland. We have become exclusive communities!

There are many divisions between us, but most prevalent is the division between the rich and poor, the young and old. These are nothing new you cry, and indeed you are right; but in this information age a new factor has been introduced, technology. Yes those latest gadgets that we all love and adore ;-)!! The rich have them, the poor don’t! The young understand them, the old don’t! This is of course a generalisation, but in the vast majority it remains true. Thus enters the Digital Divide! A new barrier of bits of 1s and 0s.

Vibrant; thrilling, lively, bright and striking. This does not sound like the communities of Ireland in the Information Age. There is nothing striking about our communities in these days, we are exactly like all the other communities in the developed world. The emphasis is on money and material things. We have lost the lively and bright communities of our past where money was not such a factor, because there was little to no chance of us getting it. Material goods have sucked all the colour out of our communities as we our eyes reflect the glare from the monitors where we work, or as keep our heads down, working hour after hour, trying to earn as much as we can, so that we can become a part of the exclusive communities.

Unfortunately, in this Information Age, there is a huge emphasis placed upon the latest technologies, the faster speeds, the larger bandwidths, and it is because of this that there is little chance for a vibrant, inclusive community until The Digital Divide is tackled. But I feel that it will be left fester, like world hunger and artifical blindness that governments have gotten when they are faced with abuse of human rights! But we will lie to ourselves, reassuring ourselves that we are living in a vibrant, inclusive community. When in fact we live in a bland, cold and exclusive community, remeniscent of the beige boxes that are at the root of the divide between us.

In short, this vision is not realistic! The Information Age is here and none of these things have happened, nor will they happen, unless there is a drastic shift in the policies of both the World’s Society and in Irish Society (which is almost certainly not going to happen). Some things appear to have happened or to be true, but in reality, they have not and are not, respectively.

Ireland is not a unique community!

Secure employment has not been created!
True wealth has also not been created!
Nor have vibrant, inclusive communites been created! Rather they have been destroyed, to become bland, exclusive communites!
This is in no way a Realistic Vision of Ireland!