Islands on the Edge?

Are islands on the Edge? What is the Edge on a spherical planet ? And in the digital world is there an Edge?

Fleur Ward 1

Fleur Ward

These were a few of the interesting ideas posed by PhD 3rd year student at The Institute for Northern Studies at The University of the Highlands and Islands (UHI), Fleur Ward.

Fleur Ward has been exploring the many islands which make up the three local authorities in Scotland:  Orkney, Shetland and Comhairle nan Eilean Siar; The islands that make of The Faroes and Valentia in Ireland. Her research is into IT and this talk on Tuesday 4th of February at the St Magnus Centre, Kirkwall, was focused on digital connectivity.

Fleur explained that the ‘accepted’ view of islands has developed over recent history with cartographers’ representations in flat maps pushing islands to the ‘edge’.As tourism developed for the well to do in the late 18th and 19th centuries, the islands were seen as places of isolation. Poets, artists and musicians presented islands as places with a simple past – as living museums.

The reality of course was quite different. The islands of Scotland suffered from the Clearances – even in Orkney where those who had for generations worked the land were driven from their homes in Rousay. The Herring Boom stretched across the islands and coastal areas of Scotland bringing wealth and prosperity to a few but also a good income to islanders. During both World Wars the islands were extremely important strategically because of their geographical positions. Scapa Flow, Orkney, was the Royal Naval base being sheltered deep water.

Fleur covered the introduction of The Telegraph. It is maybe difficult for us to perceive today when we complain about a slow internet connection to fully comprehend how important The Telegraph was . In 1886 the island of Valentia, Ireland become a hub of telecommunication when the first  successful commercial cable was laid across the Atlantic from Foilhommerum Bay to Heart’s Content, Newfoundland.

In 1869 people were able to send messages via telegraph in Orkney but it wasn’t until 1885 that Shetland could.

Fleur explored the transformative effects that the digital age has had on the islands she has been researching, in particular The Faroes which is seen by islanders elsewhere as the ‘benchmark for connectivity.’

Fair Isle, which is part of the Shetland Local Authority now has the EE emergency service programme. This was, until recently, an island that struggled with the most basic provision. Fair Isle now has  2  GSM 900 MHz base stations operated by Vodafone and O2 and on the 16th of  April 2019, an EE 4G antenna was turned on by Openreach.

Digital connectivity has changed and continues to change the way islanders do business, opening up markets worldwide and increasing the number of remote workers. The future of Space centres  in both Unst, Shetland and North Uist, Outer Hebrides is looked on positively by many as bringing new opportunities and jobs for islanders.

The islands are abundant in online media, television production (BBC Alba), recording studios and livestreaming of events delivering island events into homes across the world.

Islanders are innovative and tech savvy. There is much those in large centres of population could learn from the creativity of islanders and their used of digital connectivity.

Reporter: Fiona Grahame

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