Irish Times, Sat, Oct 25, 2014
The Silver Surfer awards, which Google and Age Action gave out this week to people in their 60s, 70s and 80s, are proof, if you need it, that the internet isn’t confined to people born in the digital age.
Paddy Crean, who is 85, won a Golden IT award at the ceremony, at Google’s Dublin headquarters, for designing websites for Wicklow Male Voice Choir, Wicklow Active Retirement Association and the local bridge club. His use of software that translates musical notation to sounds was probably what captured the judges’ attention most.
“I found some software that allowed me to transcribe sheet music on to the computer, which would output it as sounds. I was able to send the printed music and the sounds on USB sticks for members of the choir to practise at home,” says Crean.
Having joined the department of posts and telegraphs at the age of 16, Crean worked in telecommunications all his life, retiring from the semi-State agency Telecom Éireann – now Eircom – in 1992. “It was only in the last six months of my working life that I got a computer, but I didn’t feel I had much use for it then. I tried to use the word processor and learn 10-finger typing,” he says.
Crean’s interest in information technology blossomed during his retirement. “Now I do all my accounts, credit-card transactions, bank returns and bills on the internet. I do sudoku on the internet, as well, but the work for the choir is what has got the biggest response, because it meant people who couldn’t read music could practise and learn their lines at home.”
Today Crean is with Wicklow Male Voice Choir, competing against five other choirs in the City of Derry International Choral Festival.
Crean says his interest in technology may be partly down to the fact that he was never a great sportsman. “I was never selected for team sports in school and later. I tried pitch and putt and indoor bowls, but when I got to a certain level of competence I lost interest.”
Instead he thoroughly enjoys the intricacies of personal publishing platforms such as WordPress. “I even set up my own website, to learn more about it. I’m a home bird, really, and I can do all these things without going out. Yet administering the websites keeps me in touch with people. I’m not a recluse.”
How was awards night, which was held at the Foundry, Google’s innovation centre? “It was great fun. There was a Frank Sinatra show and a barbershop chorus. I won a Chrome notebook for my award. I was amazed by all the different contributions to technology from different participants, from finding crochet patterns online to writing stories for grandchildren to setting up online book clubs.”