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Democracy of internet was never intended



Date Published: 05-Nov-2009

This may come as a surprise – the Internet is 40 years old this autumn. Doesn’t seem that long, does it?

Well of course it depends on what you call ‘Internet’. It’s really more the anniversary of the grandmother of the Net we know.

In 1969, all that existed was an experiment to prove that decentralised, distributed communication could work. Sounds complex, but it could hardly be more simple. Conventional communications are hierarchical.

Think of the 1916 Rising. (An unexpected example, but bear with me. . .) I’m not sure if it was part of the plan, but because the GPO was the nerve-centre of the postal system, its occupation by the volunteers stopped virtually everything except local mail throughout the country.

The military lesson was obvious – a centralised communication system is terribly vulnerable. Local mail is harder to stop. So, can a nationwide system be at the same time entirely local? Surprisingly, yes. If you connect every sub-post office to its nearest neighbours, and those to their neighbours and so on.

A message is not sent into the centre to be routed back out again, but passed from one local office to another ‘across country’ until it reaches its destination. The brilliant part is that this still functions even if you occupy or blow up the majority of the offices; your letter just has to take a longer route. But the Internet as we know it took shape gradually over the ’70s and ’80s, as they allowed first universities and eventually the general public to play.

Thanks to e-mail and chat rooms – and thanks particularly to cheap local call rates – it quickly took off in America. But it was from Europe that the next big change was to come. In the ’80s, Europe was experimenting with online public information systems.

France had the Minitel for sending data over phone lines, Britain was doing it using broadcast TV. But these ideas were still essentially hierarchical.

All that changed at the start of the ’90s when the World Wide Web first appeared. The Web took advantage of the distributed nature of the Internet – and took it further.

Any modern personal computer can read websites; what fewer people realise is that it can also be a website. You can host your own site on your home computer and open it to the public. And as every page on the Web can link to any other, it is the most distributed, non-hierarchical form of communication ever invented. (Though to reward the inventor, the British promoted him to Sir Tim Berners-Lee, which I can’t help think was missing the point.)

The ball was back in America’s court then, where a university in Illinois made the breakthrough which created the Web we know today: Pictures! Sound, animation and full video quickly followed, and soon we had an all-singing, all-dancing Web that now becomes hard to distinguish from television or the general media avalanche.

And though this is great, it is also perhaps a shame – because it makes it easy to forget that the Internet is the first truly two-way form of mass communication, accessible to around a quarter of all people on Earth, yet owned by nobody except the people who use it. It’s the world’s biggest exercise in democracy.

And that was never part of the plan.

Galway in Days Gone By

The way we were – Protecting archives of our past



A photo of Galway city centre from the county council's archives

People’s living conditions less than 100 years ago were frightening. We have come a long way. We talk about water charges today, but back then the local District Councils were erecting pumps for local communities and the lovely town of Mountbellew, according to Council minutes, had open sewers,” says Galway County Council archivist Patria McWalter.

Patria believes we “need to take pride in our history, and we should take the same pride in our historical records as we do in our built heritage”. When you see the wealth of material in her care, this belief makes sense.

She is in charge of caring for the rich collection of administrative records owned by Galway County Council and says “these records are as much part of our history as the Rock of Cashel is. They document our lives and our ancestors’ lives. And nobody can plan for the future unless you learn from the past, what worked and what didn’t”.

Archivists and librarians are often unfairly regarded as being dry, academic types, but that’s certainly not true of Patria. Her enthusiasm is infectious as she turns the pages of several minute books from Galway’s Rural District Councils, all of them at least 100 years old.

Part of her role involved cataloguing all the records of the Councils – Ballinasloe, Clifden, Galway, Gort, Loughrea, Mountbellew, Portumna and Tuam. These records mostly consisted of minutes of various meetings.

When she was cataloguing them she realised their worth to local historians and researchers, so she decided to compile a guide to their content. The result is For the Record: The Archives of Galway’s Rural District Councils, which will be a valuable asset to anybody with an interest in history.

Many representatives on these Councils were local personalities and several were arrested during the political upheaval of the era, she explains.

And, ushering in a new era in history, women were allowed to sit on these Rural District Councils – at the time they were not allowed to sit on County Councils.

All of this information is included in Patria’s introductory essay to the attractively produced A4 size guide, which gives a glimpse into how these Rural Councils operated and the way political thinking changed in Ireland during a short 26-year period. In the early 1900s, these Councils supported Home Rule, but by 1920, they were calling for full independence and refusing to recognise the British administration.

“I love the tone,” says Patria of the minutes from meetings. “The language was very emotive.”

That was certainly true of the Gort Rural District Council. At a meeting in 1907, following riots in Dublin at the premiere of JM Synge’s play, The Playboy of the Western World the councillors’ response was vehement. They recorded their decision to “protest most emphatically against the libellous comedy, The Playboy of the Western World, that was belched forth during the past week in the Abbey Theatre, Dublin, under the fostering care of Lady Gregory and Mr Yeats. We congratulate the good people of Dublin in howling down the gross buffoonery and immoral suggestions that are scattered throughout this scandalous performance.


For more from the archives see this week’s Tribunes here

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Archive News

Real Galway flavour to intermediate club hurling battle in Birr



Date Published: 23-Jan-2013


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Archive News

Athenry fail to take chances as they bow out of Junior Cup



Date Published: 29-Jan-2013

Athenry FC 1

Kilbarrack United 2

(After extra time)

For the second year in succession Athenry were done in extra time in the FAI Junior Cup as last season’s beaten finalist’s came from behind to snatch an excellent game in Moanbawn on Sunday afternoon.

On a heavy pitch that was only playable following extensive groundwork by club officials all morning, the home side were by far the better side in the opening half, but failed to take advantage of a number of opportunities that came their way.

An Alan O’Donovan penalty gave them a merited advantage just after the restart, but thereafter were on the back foot as Kilbarrack took over, but for all their pressing, the home rearguard were dealing comfortably with their forays.

However they were struck a body blow just six minutes from time, as big striker Keith Kirwan was left all alone at the far post to head the equaliser and from that point on the Dubliners were the better side.

They started off the extra time in the ascendancy and enjoying all the momentum before striking for a good winning goal on 104 minutes. A strong bench allowed them to make some necessary changes and it was not a facility that was available to Athenry manager Gabriel Glavin.

With Gary Forde and Gary Delaney out through suspension following their sending off against OLBC in the previous round, and Seamie Crowe injured, it left their bench rather threadbare with just a number of young squad players available.

Playing with the aid of the slight incline and any wind advantage going, the home side had a Connor Cannon effort on target in the opening minute, while John Meleady was just over with a flick at the other end.

Meleady then tested Andrew Walsh who saved comfortably, before the goalkeeper pulled off a brilliant double save on 14 minutes.

Firstly he went full length to push away a Meleady shot and was then back on his feet to parry David Jackson’s close-range rebound.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Sentinel.

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