Information technology has been associated with most aspects of today’s society. Most significant areas of most people’s lives in developed countries and increasingly in developing countries have a presence of information technology.
This blog exists to better understand the implications of this for the world now and in the future. What should we be concerned about and what aspects of peoples’ lives might be improved? This is important, especially for people who will work with information technology in their jobs and also for people who use it in other areas of their lives.
Technology workers will determine how information technology products are developed and how they will be applied in the organisations in which they work. They will make choices in this development and application that will affect others, influencing their lives and the lives of generations in the future. Managers will impact employees in their use of technology and parents will impact their children, teachers will impact students and politicians will impact citizens. Being aware of the impact of your technological decisions on others, given the increasing presence of information technology, is very, very important.
The postings in this blog show that opinions are divided on the role of technology – some people argue that information technology is having a largely positive impact while others think it is largely negative and suggest that our future will be very bleak unless we make significant changes to our technology use.
This blog looks at a wide range of areas of technological impact. It seeks to explain the various issues and views in each area discussed. Clearly, not every area can be covered here – the areas impacted are changing and growing constantly. It should give the reader a sense, though, of the range of views that exist and help you consider what you believe yourself, allowing you to make better informed decisions on your work with and use of information technology.
How Does Technology Impact Society?
While there are opposing and diverse views on the impact that information technology is having, there are also various views or theories of how technology develops and how it impacts society. These views are discussed in the post Theories of Technology and Society which provides a theoretical foundation for the blog. It explains that there are a range of theories which are both positive and negative (technology is usually good versus technology is usually bad) and which assume varying levels of human control over this.
Some argue that technology follows a logical path in its development that we have no or little control over, while others argue that people can and should influence the path that technological development takes. Your belief about information technology development will determine how you will make decisions about your own use of technology in your personal and working life.
Technology and People at Work
Information technology is impacting work in a number of areas, from the tools that are available to people to do the work, to the impact on the environment in which they work, to the way in which they are managed, to the skills that they need to do the work itself. The blog post for this topic looks at all of these areas.
Carolyn Axtell of the University of Sheffield is a specialist in this area and was interviewed for the blog. She discusses the range of ways that information technology impacts people at work in both negative and positive ways. The first part of her interview is posted below – the rest can be found on the blog post above:
The way that technology is applied at work will be influenced by beliefs about human nature and motivation at work – what is the best way to get people to work well? Beliefs on this vary and are discussed in the blog post.
Information Technology and Third World Development
Information technology is having a rapidly increasing impact in the Third World. Posts on the blog have demonstrated this trend. Concerns continue to exist about the Digital Divide, that separates developed and developing countries in their technology usage. Some believe that mobile technologies will allow this to be overcome, while others argue that information technology will reinforce and possibly widen the gulf between rich and poor.
Kelvin Cantafio of NetHope (at the time of the interview) discusses the impact that information technology is having and argues that this is largely positive. Examples of the, often thought to be positive, application of technology for health, education and economic development are discussed in the post.
Bridging the gulf between rich and poor in the world and addressing serious development issues such as eradicating famine, improving levels of healthcare and education and supporting economic improvement and democratisation are common goals in humanitarian development. Information technology’s contribution to this is an important area of study to understand how its role might best be managed.
Globalisation is argued by most people to have been strongly enabled by globalisation. Information technology provided the tools that enable people to work more closely across the world, for organisations to be come part of global supply chains and people to experience a range of cultures. The blog’s posts on globalisation discuss these topics.
Views on globalisation are positive and negative. Some believe that global organisations increase labour exploitation and carbon emissions while others embrace the emergence of diverse urban environments with many cultures living side by side. Professor Ian Goldin from the University of Oxford discusses technology and globalisation, providing his views on its future course:
Information technology impacts the environment in our use of it and in its application to environmental concerns. Our use of it consumes resources, including electrical power for operation of hardware and for cooling the environment in which hardware is located. Emissions from air conditioning used for cooling has a direct impact on greenhouse gas levels.
Disposal of computer equipment is often destructive. Discarded equipment is often shipped to developing countries where harmful processes extract valuable elements and dispose of the remaining parts in environmentally damaging ways, resulting in air pollution and ground and water contamination.
Mark Aggar of Microsoft and the Green Grid, was interviewed for the blog on the impact of technology on the environment and argued that technology also contributed to environmental improvement (this is the first part of Mark’s interview – the rest is viewable on the blog):
Information technology can improve our understanding of the impact we are having on the environment and enable this to be controlled more effectively. IT based systems that allow more efficient usage of energy are frequently used today. These include in the heating and cooling of factories, offices and homes and in the operational activity of organisations, better managing shipping and manufacturing processes. Virtual meeting capabilities and working at home reduce the impact of work based travel on the environment, enabled by information technology.
There is a fascinating debate about the impact that information technology is having and will have on democracy. One side in the debate argues that we are likely to see the expansion of democracy as a result of the increased access to information and communications that the internet brings. By having more understanding of the activities of their governments, more open communication online with others and being more aware of democracy in other countries, citizens may demand more democracy for themselves.
Alternatively, it is also argued that the internet will lead to a reduction in democracy by making control of citizens easier. People’s online behaviour and their political attitudes are easier to track and so government activity can be better targeted to control it, better focussing security forces and propaganda.
The Arab Spring in 2011 was heralded by many as evidence that the internet was a strongly positive force for democracy. In the years since then realities have challenged this initial optimism and uncertainty remains about whether democracy will strengthen or weaken.
Privacy continues to be a concern with the proliferation of information technology in our lives. More and more data is gathered as we use the internet in our personal and business lives. Confidential corporate data is also vulnerable. Privacy advocates say that this is something we should be very concerned about while others are comfortable to argue that “privacy is dead” and we don’t really need to worry about it.
The blog reports on this debate and includes an interview with Ann Cavoukian, then Information and Privacy Commissioner for the Province of Ontario:
The privacy debate is likely to intensify in future years as more data is gathered and capabilities in using that data improve and are used by more organisations.
The nature of modern warfare has changed – information technology has changed the weaponry that wars are fought with and have altered the way that wars are fought. Radical changes in communications have changed the political landscape for warfare – activities on the battlefield are more visible to populations broadly and control of government messaging on wars is more difficult. Insurgencies, especially highlighted by Islamic State have become more prominent and the political issues in managing this are complex.
At the same time the weaponry has been revolutionised. Drones have the potential to reduce casualties but also have been met by strong political opposition. Debate exists on the way that wars should be fought – Colonel TX Hammes discusses this in the following interview for the blog:
Is the Internet Making Us Stupid and Violent?
There is vigorous debate over whether the internet is having a negative impact on our personalities. Two areas that illustrate this debate are whether we are becoming more stupid or more violent.
The argument on stupidity focusses on how people are reading less books and have shorter attention spans with the massive amount of information that we have access to online. This is argued to be altering people’s brains and making them less intelligent. Others argue that multi-tasking is more common because of the internet and therefore people are processing more information and becoming smarter. The evidence is inconclusive.
Violent video games are often discussed as a reason for spree shooting events in the United States. Evidence on this topic is weak too. Some argue that a link exists here while others say that it doesn’t.
The impact that the internet and information technology are having on our psyche is important – if our personalities are changing this would presumably have an impact on our society and it would be useful to understand what this is and whether there is anything that we can or should do about it.
The impact of information technology in education is also hotly debated. Again, views diverge widely on its beneficial or negative effects. Some argue that any movement away from the traditional educational model with the teacher at the front of the classroom with a blackboard is a deterioration in educational quality. Others say that information technology can improve the quality and accessibility of education today.
The debate on information technology and education is based on the debate over pedagogy – or the ways that people learn. Some teachers favour a lecturing approach, largely presenting material to their class, while others favour an activity based approach, often with students working in groups. The way that technology is applied in education and its impact on educational quality will depend on the pedagogical belief that underlies it. The blog discusses these issues.
Technology and the Millennial Generation
Negative and positive views also exist about the Millennial generation. This generation were the first to grow up with information technology being a significant presence in their younger years. They are also said to have particular characteristics based on the actions of their parents and the wider societal conditions that they grew up in.
Millennials are now in the workplace and have provoked some strong reactions. They often have high expectations for rapid advancement and flexibility in work / life balance. Some view this positively, emphasising willingness to work outside of strict hours, multitasking and ability to handle responsibility. Others view willingness to challenge authority, unrealistic career expectations and desires for flexible work hours negatively.
Future of Technology and Society
Changes in our lives related to information technology will continue in the future. The internet of things, big data and driverless cars are only a few of the factors that will be important. In the blog many topics are discussed. The future nature of the internet and the implications of this are important, as is the use of future technologies.
This post has summarised many of the areas that are covered in the blog as an introduction to the content. The blog posts that are linked from this post, and others, provide further detail in each of these areas.