Wireless society keeps itself connected

Q&A: John O’Connor
Bantry Bay Computers uses technology to keep rural people up to speed

It seems like only yesterday that I hurried down to the village with a copy of a new story in my hand. The hotel had recently acquired a fax machine and they had allowed me use it.

I had been posting my stories by mail, or, if there was a rush on, reading them over the phone to one of the Irish Examiner’s long-suffering copy-takers.

Today, fax machines are largely forgotten, and languish in corners, along with plug-in foot-massagers and bread-makers that no-one uses.

For me, the great thrill was, and still is, being able to Google information, via computer, on any topic, no matter how obscure. I eventually got a mobile phone, too, and, like everyone else, soon couldn’t imagine life without it. I used to get regular calls offering me upgrades which, every now and then, I would accept. But I wasn’t all that ambitious.

I didn’t upgrade my phone for ten years. Then, I ran into a problem at Heathrow Airport, when I needed to check a bag in, only to be told that it would £48 unless I did it on-line via my phone.

The look of horror upon the check-in person’s face when I told her that my phone didn’t do things like that was classic.

But the incident got me thinking. It was time I upgraded my phone, and my computer, too, which was still just about functioning on a 2000 operating system. It was time to embrace change.

The saleswoman did her best to be helpful. But it couldn’t have been easy conveying information to someone who was so woefully out of touch. I asked if the smartphone I chose came with a manual. It didn’t, she said, but she had bought the same model for her nine-year-old daughter, who hadn’t had any trouble figuring it out.

There didn’t seem to be much to say to that, and, at the time of writing and with the help of a better-informed friend, I have just about got to grips with the basics — like answering a phone call.

And by the time they call me about the next upgrade, I might even have figured out a few of the other intriguing applications my shiny new phone offers. Who knows what I might have been missing out on?

For those of us who are not, by inclination, technically minded, the temptation to stick with the tried-and-tested has all the attraction of a comfortable pair of well-worn slippers.

But for rural dwellers, who often lack basic services and for whom work is hard to come by, technological developments offer a life-line and have been embraced by many. I spoke to John O’Connor, of Bantry Bay Computers, who — along with his colleague, Cian Bennett — runs a helpful and comprehensive service, which has rescued many a confused computer owner.

So, John, how important do you think have technological developments become to rural areas like ours?

Critical, I think. Technology has the power to decentralise and to make it possible for people to work anywhere. And that’s particularly important for people in rural areas. Things are changing overnight and what was new and a bit strange not so long ago — like mobile phones, for instance — is commonplace now. People are growing up alongside these developments now and they need very little encouragement to get the most out of what is currently on offer. I think the tablet, or the computer, is the equivalent of having a pad and pencil by the phone, the way we used to.

What are the most popular devices at the moment?

Probably laptops and tablets, though, of course, most people have smartphones today. People’s expectations are increasing, too.

They want maximum performance, speed, and a fast, reliable broadband service, which we seem to have been promised forever. Rural areas could progress substantially if only they had this. I can remember when all we had in these parts was a dial-up service, which was slow and unreliable. So I would only check my emails twice a day, because I didn’t want to tie up the phone line.

Where did you grow up?

My mother, Phyllis, is from Bantry. She runs the art shop and she’s pretty well-known here. My dad is from Limerick.

I grew up in London, but we came over all the time. We all loved it here. I can remember driving round in the car and my dad saying “You can live like a millionaire here for not much money,” and us kids would roll our eyes and groan. I studied art and design in Limerick and I worked in advertising for a while. But that came to an abrupt end when I was asked to work on an advertising competition for Margaret Thatcher.

I got involved with computers when a guy who lived above me introduced me to a computer programme that allowed you to visualise music.

I’ve always loved music and, for me, that was a perfect marriage. It sparked something. Right now, I’m trying to learn the piano.

What’s the best advice you can give to someone who might be reluctant to embrace new technology?

Well, not to be afraid of it. There’s so much we can do and learn from technology. It’s true that people can feel like they are suffering from information overload, but it’s up to us to manage that. My wife and I don’t watch that much TV anymore. We have our own gadgets and, sometimes, I’ll look up from my phone to see the little face of my three-year-old staring up at me.

We have to be aware of things like that, not to isolate ourselves from our families and friends.


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