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The Social Impact Of Information And Communication Technology

Almost every aspect of society is affected by IT. In the home we have improved communication technology and microprocessor controlled electrical goods. Manufacturing industry uses IT to control and plan production thus providing us with cheaper goods. Elderly and disabled people are supported by IT based devices such as automatic alarm systems that ring up a carer if no movement is detected in the house.

Factories and Manufacturing

Computer Aided Design increases productivity of design staff. Allows costing and production scheduling to be modelled before production is undertaken. This can be developed into Computer Aided Manufacturing where the actual production is controlled by computers using data output from the CAD design stage.

Robots can be used in production processes to provide greater consistency and quality than humans. They can work in hostile environments thus saving the need for humans to work in dangerous or unhealthy conditions. Robots can also make it economic to customise assembly line production items since they are easily programmable.

The combination of CAM and robotics leads to automated factories.

IT in Business

In the office word processors have replaced typewriters. Since the word processor is normally also a computer - either a micro or a terminal attached to a central computer - it also provides other facilities. Up to date information from a database and electronic messaging systems via a network are just two possibilities. Although fewer people are now employed to produce written work they tend to have more responsibility. To some extent this has de-skilled the middle management while at the same time improving the status of secretaries and providing them with a wider and more interesting range of work and responsibility leading to greater job satisfaction.

Within an organisation information is more readily available and up to date and communication is faster and more effective.

With IT it becomes possible for management to more closely monitor the activities and productivity of the work force. The computer system that the employee is using can automatically store data about individual employees. Examples include number of key presses per minute by a secretary word processing, number of customers dealt with per shift by a check out assistant or number of calls dealt with per hour by someone in a directory enquiries office. This may lead to greater productivity and bonuses for certain employees but it may also lead to alienation of the work force who start to feel like robots.

Use of IT, reducing numbers of office staff and replacing personal or telephone contact with electronic mail or fax may reduce the social contact with in the office making it a depersonalised environment.

The introduction of the PC has lead to a decentralisation of power in many organisations. Information is now available more readily to a wider number of employees.

The Internet

The existence of the internet and the rapid rise in the number of people having access it is having its own effect on society. Access to information has been opened up in a way that is unparalleled since the development of the printing press.

Social issues such as should all information on the Internet be freely available or should some form of international policing be enforced have still be resolved. It is possible to use the Internet to help plan illegal activities such as bomb making and virus propagation as well as use it as a research tool or to book a holiday or buy software. In addition there is the growing unease at the large-scale use of the Internet to promote and sell hard-core pornography. This material can be sold from a site in one country where it may be legal but the person buying it may find that it is illegal in the country they live in.

Business is making increasing use of the Internet, not only to advertise and promote products but also as a sales medium. Supermarkets offer customers the opportunity to place orders by computer and small specialist shops offer their service or product worldwide for very little outlay. Bookshops offer book find services to locate out of print books, CD and video producers offer free downloadable samples and increasingly banks are offering on-line banking facilities (though for security reasons these are not via Internet links). Many people are however reluctant to entrust their credit card details to the Internet. Confidence in this method of purchase is slowly growing as secure methods of encryption are developed.