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5.1.6 Applications & Effects of ICT on Society



Revision points:
Candidates should be able to:

The rapid rate of change:

As a pupil at KLB school you are used to using computers and may also have a computer at home. You will be aware that computers are used widely in the modern world in places such as shops or businesses.

What you may not know is how very recent the development of computers has actually been. Other major inventions such as cars and airplanes were invented over a hundred years ago, but compared to the changes in computers, they have changed very little.

The first electronic computers were only constructed around 50 years ago and were used during the war to calculate firing tables for field guns and to crack German codes. They used glass tubes called valves and the machines filled large rooms. They consumed huge amounts of electrical power and their processing power was tiny by today’s standards.

The widespread use of computers in homes, schools and businesses only really began about 20 years ago. This growth continues as computers become more sophisticated, with larger memories, better displays, faster processing, new features. However, despite all these improvements, their price remains the same or even falls.


The changing patterns of employment:

The introduction of computers and microprocessor controlled machinery has resulted in many changes in employment patterns. There are three main effects that apply to most situations:

  1. A labour-intensive manual car production lineA loss of jobs due to:
    • computers making jobs more efficient so less staff are needed.
    • computer/microprocessor controlled machinery directly replacing human workers.
  2. New jobs being created due to:
    • The need for technical staff to maintain and manage the computers and networks.
    • New careers such as website designers that did not exist before computers.
  3. The retraining of staff due to:
    • The need for existing staff to change over to use computers.
    • The need for staff to keep up as software and technology keeps developing.

Jobs that are lost:

Many jobs were lost, particularly from the manufacturing industries, as the repetitive tasks of unskilled workers were replaced by machines.

A modern robotic production lineAn example would be the replacement of car body assembly workers and body part painters by robots. However, computerisation has replaced jobs across most areas of the workplace, right up to middle management positions.

New jobs that are created:

There have however been positive effects on employment, many new jobs have been created in communication technology and computing, both in the service and  manufacturing industries.

Retraining the workforce:

The switch to computerised systems involves considerable retraining and means that a modern society needs to have a more flexible workforce.  Individuals need to understand how computers work and the effects that Information and Communication Technology has on their lives so that they can influence the changes that are taking place and ensure that a better quality of life results from those changes. The rapid advances mean individuals may have to retrain for employment several times during their working lives. 


Why companies invest in new technology: As a factory invests in computerised equipment some of its workers may be made redundant. Its productivity rises as its labour costs are reduced and it will become more competitive.

What can happen if companies do not make this investment: If a company does not invest in computerised equipment then higher labour costs and lower productivity will means its products will be less competitive. This could result in the company failing and jobs being lost anyway. This is an issue that employers, trade unions and governments have to face.


Flexible employment:

Advances in ICT have also allowed teleworking to become a significant factor in employment patterns. This involves carrying out work away from the office and communicating with the employer through the use of computer and telecommunications equipment. This has obvious advantages for individuals but society as a whole benefits in terms of reduced commuting and hence savings in costs and pollution, as well as allowing employment to those working in remote areas. 


The effects of microprocessor-controlled devices in the home:

  • The effects on leisure time - microprocessor controlled domestic appliances such as washing machines, cookers, heating systems etc. do not need direct human control because they have timers, operating programs and safety checks built in. This means the user can leave them to complete their tasks so they have more leisure time.
  • The effects on social interaction - from the comfort of the home people can communicate in many more ways than the traditional telephone and postal service.
    • Email allows fast efficient communication with the ability to send files as attachments and email many people at the same time.
    • Online messaging allows users to sent text, images and files in real time, as well as communicate via voice and video.
    • Wireless phones and mobile phones allow interaction by telephone conversations from any room or the garden. 
    • SMS (Short Messaging Service) text messages, images and video clips to be sent between mobile phones and computers.
    • Answer machines allow messages to be left for users who cannot answer the telephone.
    • Social interaction websites allow users to interact by leaving messages and adding comments to blogs.  Users can also upload and share image and video files.
  • The effects on the need to leave the home - computers linked to the Internet have greatly reduced the need for people to leave the home.
    • Entertainment - music and games can be downloaded. Movies can be downloaded and this, along with Interactive digital television, means there is no need to go to the cinema or video rental shop.
    • Goods - these can be easily ordered from online stores and delivered to the home.
    • Food - takeaway food and groceries can be ordered online and delivered directly to the door.
    • Services - banking, ordering insurance and many other services can be carried out over the telephone or the Interent.

The effects of variation in computer access and ICT skills between different people:

Many people think that the variation in computer access and ICT skills is leading to a society that is divided by technology. Those who cannot afford the hardware or lack the confidence are disadvantaged compared to those who embrace each new advance. Not keeping up with technology leads to people being disadvantaged socially, in education and in employment in many ways, some of which are outlined below:

  • Not being able to access the huge range of information available over the Internet or on CD-Rom and digital television etc.
  • Not being able to use ICT skills such as using word processing and DTP software.
  • Not being able to sort, search and analyse data using software such as spreadsheets and databases.
  • Not being able to use creative tools such as graphics software, CAD and 3D design software, as well as music and video editing software.
  • Not being able to use more advanced communication methods such as email, news groups, phone texting (SMS), video phones, chat rooms, bulletin-boards, telecommunications etc.

Communication:

Modern communication has become almost instantaneous. Email is cheap and fast and Information and Communication Technology allows documents and diagrams to be faxed around the world. More and more people are now working from home and this is likely to increase as video-conferencing becomes more and more commonplace. In communication technology, there have been huge advances in digital communication through satellite and cable television and digital radio.

The vast quantity of information available through the Internet requires new skills to search out and select the information needed from the various sources and articles.

Mobile phones are now used to communicate via text messages, images and even video as well as being able to access information over the Internet and send/receive email.


Data, and what it is used for:

Those who said that the use of computers would lead to the paperless office were sadly wrong. In fact, computers have lead to an increase in the overall amount of paper printed. This is partly due to the amount of information about people held on computer files which is then used to generate computerised mail that is delivered to our houses as letters, bills, forms and advertising.

Such data may be highly confidential, for example criminal, medical and financial data. Any errors in this data due to errors in the source of the data or when it is entered can have an issue that may have a huge effect on our lives.


Our dependence on technology:

This rapid increase in the use of computers is having an enormous impact on our lives. Our modern way of living simply could not exist if this modern technology were removed.

Examples:

  • Our financial system is dependant on modern technology to process the millions of cheques written every day.
  • With modern telecommunications, it would be impossible to control the millions of telephone calls made every day.

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