Information Technology (IT) is a broad-based term that includes a combination of the acquisition, processing, storage and dissemination of information in a computing or telecommunications platform. In terms of a scientific discipline, it is relatively new, appearing in a 1958 article in the Harvard Business Review in which the authors said, “this new technology does not yet have a single established name. We shall call it information technology (IT)” (Dunn, 2011). The field has been part of the tremendous growth in computing and telecommunications, and remains vital — it is behind the recent emergence of next generation web technology, bioinformation, cloud computing, global information systems, and large scale databases.
The IT area manages technology in a wide variety of fields that include software, hardware, information systems, and programming languages. IT professionals perform a wide variety of functions from installation of applications and hardware to designing and maintaining complex networks and information databases. Part of the job may be data management, networking, engineering, database and software design and now into more conventional personal computers and the integrating of cellular and smart phones, television and entertainment systems, automobiles and more and more personal and business applications that require greater technological innovation. One of the more interesting issues when dealing with IT deals with what is commonly called the “1/2 life of technology.” Essentially, computing information and power per capita has doubled every 14 months between 1986 and 2007, with the global telecommunication capacity doubling every 3 years. After 2007, however, growth dropped to every 10-12 months, with sources beginning to believe that after 2013 the power and densities, combined with memory and sophistication will double only every 18 months (Kanellos, 2005).
IT as change agent- The world’s capacity for bidirectional communication grew at 28% per annum since 1986. Since 1990, telecommunication has been dominated by digital technologies since 1990 and the majority of human technological memory has been in digital formats since the early 2000s. General purpose computing grew at almost 60% per annum, making Information Technology one of the most vital change agents since World War II, literally permeating almost every facet of modern life (Hilbert & Lopez, 2011).
In essence, technology affects almost every aspect of our lives. Because of the Internet, for instance, virtually anything can be researched, purchased, and even shipped around the world in a matter of days. People can look up classmates, do genealogical research, even trade stocks or file taxes online. Smartphones have made it easier for people to keep in touch — from worried parents to global high-stakes deals that now go on 24 hours per day, 365 days per year. As this communication and information revolution burst after 1960, and especially after 1980, information travels faster and the world seems smaller and smaller — the global village is more of a reality than ever before. Storing massive amounts of information either virtually or on personal and business servers has reduced paper files, and allowed people to have access to far more information at the touch of a button. Using email allows individuals to send files, pictures, and data to friends, family and colleagues around the world almost instantaneously (Ephremides, 2009).
IT in Medicine- Many scholars see the greatest single influence on the changes in the practice of medicine since World War II to be the development of technology. Database technology allows doctors to handle complex information (patient records, test results, x-rays and other tests) and also share this data with specialists around the world. Doctors no longer need to be physically located in the same room as the patient to view and review their case. In addition, information can travel with the patient throughout their lives, making it far easier to see patterns. Educationally, IT helps doctors practice to be doctors without needing as much dissection — virtual programs assist in learning surgery, anatomy, and complex organic chemical reactions. Advances in computer memory and technology also allow for quicker development of x-rays and scans (CAT, etc.) as well as quicker blood and urine test results. Finally, technology, particularly biotechnology has a huge effect on disease prevention and, through gene therapy, diseases that were once incurable now easier to manage (Gupta, 2005).
IT in Education – Over the last few decades, the extraordinary developments in technology have had a similar extraordinary influence on education, particularly that of the internet, online learning, and interactive computer-based learning in the K-12 curriculum. In fact, as early as the mid-1990s educators were receiving reports from the Department of Education that “through the use of advanced computing and telecommunications technology, learning can also be qualitatively different. The process of learning in the classroom becomes significantly richer as students have access to new and different types of information, can manipulate it on the computer through graphic displays or controlsâ€¦. And can communicate their results and conclusions in a variety of media.” What literally hundreds of research studies do tell us, though, is that used properly, technology can enhance the achievement and interaction of students at all levels, improve teacher/student/parent communication, and even improve school administration and management (Benefits of Technology Use, 2003).
IT in Business- Business is often at the forefront of technology since it helps generate the next great economic idea or surge. Most businesses now use, at the very least, a personal computer, modem or cable connection, the Internet, and printers. They keep customer records electronically, and are better able to find ways to serve the needs of their current and future customers. Companies can outsource customer service, order lines, or even programming and technology, saving between 30-70% of in-house costs. E-Mail and the Internet have shrunk the world so that businesses of all sizes can have global customers. In addition, the efficiency of order entry, inventory control, and supply chain integration make it more cost-effective to do business in many areas. We should not forget marketing — databases keep track of customer desires, past purchases, and even what customers look at on a web site — algorithms can then generate lists of similar or ancillary products and services, creating a more robust experience and relationship with the client (Wilson, 1999).
IT in Manufacturing/Production- There are too many changes in this field to note here, but if we take one branch — food production, we can see that IT has revolutionized the food segment from seeds and plants to consuming. Agricultural machinery, for instance, has virtually eliminated human labor in many areas of production. Biotechnology is driving change — from agrochemicals, plant breeding and genetic manipulation to handle insects or environmental stress, to producing different tastes and yields. Computer networks and specialized software and distribution packages support the food industry infrastructure to allow global movement of the vast amount of products required on a regular basis (Technology Transfer in the Food Industry, 2-11).
Conclusions- IT has literally changed the global culture. Advances in medicine, food production and distribution have helped poorer countries improve the lives of their population. Advances in transportation allow goods and services to be delivered quicker — and to strategic areas of need. Communication advances make it far easier to do business globally, as well as document social and political issues (via social media) for the world to see almost immediately (Mallik, 2004).
However, there are also a number of disadvantages that many feel are the direct result of technology. Certainly, the use of atomic power against Japan at Hiroshima in 1945 ushered in an age in which, for the first time ever, humans have the capability of destroying the entire human race and culture. Technology may also be widening the gap between members of society — we see this in automobiles, transportation and lead to more crimes of disparity (Pros and Cons of Modern Technologies, 2008). Each positive regarding IT development can also, in some ways, be seen as having a negative impact as well. One way to look at this is through a matrix:
Shrinks the world and allows for a more robust economy globally.
May cause the haves and have nots to become even more disparate.
Allows for greater transparency in government and communications
Decreases face-to-face contact and may marginalize the family
Increases access to global network of sports and entertainment
Reduces live-performance interaction and revenues — decreases contact between individuals; may lower academic performance
Increases global communication
Decreases face-to-face, community, and family dialog
Improves all areas of transportation, manufacturing, and distribution
Makes life more complex, increases gap between rich and poor
Improvements in medicine, technology for masses
Increases technicism and theocracy; new and more efficient weapons and the ability to destroy more
Vast improvements in health care paradigm
Increases laziness, obesity and loss of personality
Increased ability to interact with other cultures (globalism)
Depersonalization of society, the machine age, lack of empathy
(Hjorth, Eichler, & Khan, 2007)
Benefits of Technology use. (2003, January). Retrieved from U.S. Department of Education: http://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/os/technology/plan/national/benefits.html
Pros and Cons of Modern Technologies. (2008, September 17). Retrieved from Tech Aid: http://www.techacid.com/2008/09/17/pros-and-cons-of-modern-technologies/
Technology Transfer in the Food Industry. (2-11, October 14). Retrieved from CSIRO: http://18.104.22.168/en/Outcomes/Food-and-Agriculture/Food-industry-technology-transfer.aspx
Dunn, J. (2011, November 11). The Fascinating History of Information Technology. Retrieved from Edudemic.com: http://edudemic.com/2011/11/history-of-it/
Ephremides, A. (2009). How Information Theory Changed the World – A Brief Review of the History of the Information Society. History of Technical Societies Conference Proceedings, 8, 1-7. doi:10.1109/HTS.2009.5337845
Gupta, R. (2005, May 23). Technology and Medicine: Welcoming the Future. Retrieved from For the Record: http://www.fortherecordmag.com/archives/ftr_052305p22.shtml
Hilbert, M., & Lopez, P. (2011). Teh World’s Technological Capacity to Store, Communicate, and Compute Information. Science, 332(6025), 60-65.
Hjorth, L., Eichler, B., & Khan, A. (2007). Technology and Society: Issues for the 21st Century and Beyond. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.
Kanellos, M. (2005, April 19). New Life for Moore’s Law. Retrieved from CNET News: http://news.cnet.com/New-life-for-Moores-Law/2009-1006_3-5672485.html
Mallik, A. (2004). Technology and Security in the 21st Century. New York: Oxford University Press.
Wilson, J. (1999, August 27). How Information Technology Changed the World. Retrieved from JackWilson.com: http://www.jackmwilson.com/eBusiness/ITE.htm