Source: The Irish Times
Author: Marese McDonagh

When Paul Galligan’s teenage children were trying to tune into online classes at the height of lockdown, keeping up with their classmates was literally impossible.

The Co-Cavan-based visual artist explained that whenever the teacher shared an image, it would appear on his son Shane’s screen, just as the class moved onto the next topic.

Every Zoom connection was a nightmare for the family – until the family’s home at Killykeen, 10 minutes from Cavan town was connected to the National Broadband Ireland system recently.

“We were trying to operate with a router or with hotspots,” explained Paul, whose son and daughter had optimistically signed up for online drumming and piano lessons when Covid-19 ruled out all face-to-face tutoring.

“Even when everyone else in the house switched off all devices, the Zoom connections kept dropping in and out. It was very frustrating,” said the artist who has a studio and gallery at his home.

He will never know the opportunities he missed because of lack of connectivity and today, he is still struggling to come to terms with changes NBI-supplied superfast broadband has made to made to life – from being to accept online payments, or dealing with customers around the globe.

Even the apps taken for granted by many are revolutionary: “I had joined the tennis club, but I never knew when groups were meeting up or managed to book a game. Now I’m in the WhatsApp group so I am getting messages all the time”.

The family are relishing easy access to Netflix, YouTube, Facebook and Insagram, too: “We had a smart television with no smarts,” said the self-taught artist who has been painting since he was about five.

Fast broadband has changed the attitudes of others, too, because many of his potential would not have grasped the challenges he had in keeping in touch until recently.

“I use PayPal and SumUp for payments now and I was recently contacted by someone from the US wanting to buy something who said ‘invoice me on PayPal’.

“That would have been impossible a few months ago. I might have asked them to do a money transfer but people would think ‘that boy is in the Stone Age’”.

Even sending an email was a problem for a family living in low-lying terrain “full of drumlins” and if the email was important, Paul regularly had to drive to his brother’s house in Cavan town to send it.

Today, the family is still getting used to the novelty of not having to go outside looking for a better connection, or having to jiggle their phones on a certain window sill in the hope of linking up.

He has briefly pondered whether his kids “having their heads stuck in a phone” is in fact progress, but he says they are finding out things that actually become “conversation pieces for the whole family”.

“Even it it’s only wondering what do with the leftover chicken after dinner someone will Google it and find a recipe,” he tells The Irish Times. Even communicating by WhatsApp with family members in different rooms has its uses: “I can order room service from the bed. I couldn’t do that before.”