Information and Communication Technology

The Effects of ICT

How ICT impacts on individuals, organisations and society

The use of ICT has become increasingly widespread. At one time, only 40 or so years ago, ICT was for big business, major universities, and governments and few people thought that the time would come when ICT would be available to just about everyone.

Over the years ICT gradually spread to smaller business and lesser academic institutions, then home computers arrived, then laptops, then smaller mobile devices.

The Effects of ICT page looks at how our lives have been changed, for better and for worse, by the impact of ICT.

It includes both positive effects and negative effects and looks at how individuals, organisations and society are affected.

There are also sections on the effect of ICT on education and the environment.

Finally, I've added a poll. It just asks what brought you here. If you can spare a few seconds to tell me what courses, if any, you are teaching or taking, I may be able to add more relevant material.

Effects on Individuals, Positive effects

ICT can have a positive impact on people

Access to information. Possibly the greatest effect of ICT on individuals is the huge increase in access to information and services that has accompanied the growth of the Internet

Some of the positive aspects of this increased access are:

In addition, the use of ICT to access information has brought new opportunities for leisure and entertainment, the facility to make contacts and form relationships, social networks, with people around the world, and the ability to obtain goods and services from a wider range of suppliers.

New tools, new opportunities. A big effect of ICT is that it gives access to new tools that did not previously exist. A lot of these are tied into the access to information mentioned above, but there are many examples of stand-alone ICT systems as well:

A practical example of positive effects

Access to information and new opportunities.

This is a practical experiment which I hope you will take part in. It should only take a couple of minutes of your time.

Earlier this year, my wife and I were able to have a day on a tall ship run by the Morvargh Sailing Project. The project is set up to give young people, aged 14 - 25, the opportunity to go on voyages in a tall ship.

Despite being a lot older that 25, we had a great day out and think the project is worth supporting.

The project needs publicity, money, young people to go on voyages, help with looking after the ship, etc. One way of achieving these things is to get as many people as possible to hear / read about the project, visit their web site etc.

I'm assuming that most of you who are reading this are:

1. young people

2. fairly knowledgable about ICT, especially social networking.

So, how about you helping to produce some positive effects of ICT for individuals and organisations, young people and the Morvargh Sailing Project?

It doesn't matter if you don't live anywhere near the project, or if you don't fancy the idea of going sailing. This is to get the word out so that other people can find out about it.

Click this link to go to the Tall Ships Sail Training lens and then read it and spread the word.


Pan narrans

Effects on Individuals, Negative effects

ICT can have a negative impact on people

Job loss. One of the largest negative effects of ICT can be the loss of a person's job. This has both economic consequences, loss of income, and social consequences, loss of status and self esteem.

Job losses may occur for several reasons, including:

Reduced personal interaction. Being able to work from home is usually regarded as being a positive effect of using ICT, but there can be negative aspects as well. Most people need some form of social interaction in their daily lives and if they do not get the chance to meet and talk with other people they may feel isolated and unhappy.

Of course, it is possible to overcome the lack of social interaction, but this usually involves deliberate planning and the active pursuit of relationships which might otherwise dwindle away.

Reduced physical activity. A third negative effect of ICT is that users may adopt a more sedentary lifestyle. This can lead to health problems such as obesity, heart disease, and diabetes. Many countries, including the UK, have workplace regulations to prevent problems such as repetitive strain injury or eyestrain, but lack of physical exercise is rarely addressed as a specific health hazard.

Of course, this must be balanced against the effect of having to travel to work. The stress of travel can itself give rise to health problems.

Effects on Organisations, Positive effects

ICT can have a positive impact on organisations

There are three main areas in which organisations are affected by the use of ICT, communications, information management, and security.

The three areas have considerable overlap.

Communication using ICT has brought a number of benefits to organisations, such as:

Information management. Organisations can benefit from using ICT for information management. e.g.

Security. Although the use of ICT can bring its own security issues, see next section, it can also solve or reduce some security problems, e.g.

Effects on Organisations, Negative effects

ICT can have a negative impact on organisations

The use of ICT by organisations can have drawbacks as well as positive effects. Some of the main problems are cost, competition, and security.

The cost of using ICT may cause a number of problems for organisations.

A lot of ICT hardware and software is expensive, both to purchase and to maintain. An ICT system usually requires specialist staff to run it and there is also the challenge of keeping up with ever-changing technology.

These extra costs should be offset by the positive effects of using ICT, but if an organisation gets its cost-benefit analysis wrong it may lose money.

Competition is usually thought of as being a good thing, but for some organisations being exposed to greater competition can be a problem. If the organisation is competing for customers, donations, or other means of funding nationally or even internationally, they may lose out to other organisations that can offer the same service for less money.

Security is always a problem for any organisation that uses ICT. Data must be kept secure, Internet connections must be protected from attack, new viruses and other forms of malware are released nearly every day.

Organisations will usually have legal obligations to protect data such as customer information. Even if the organisation does not have to comply with a specific data protection law it will usually be in the organisation's interest to protect data from rivals.

In view of the international nature of my readers, I have used the OECD guidelines in my data security page. The guidelines are given in full here.

Different countries have different laws, but the UK and all other EU countries' laws comply with the OECD guidelines. The USA has signed up to the guidelines but has not implemented them.

Data protection laws for many countries are summarised here.

Effects on Society, Positive effects

ICT can have a positive impact on society

Probably the largest effect that ICT use has on on society is allowing members of society to have greatly increased access to information.

This can have numerous positive effects, such as:

Many of these effects may also be seen as effects on individuals but they are considered here in a wider context where society as a whole benefits.

Increasing opportunities for education. (See also, the effects of ICT on education, further down this page.)

An educated society is more likely to be democratic, to have a healthy population and to be more economically successful than an uneducated society.

Available material. The fact that you are here, reading this, illustrates an increased opportunity for education. In the days before computers and ICT, if you had wanted me to teach you about a subject you would have needed to have been in one of my classes, or at least to have written to me or telephoned me. assuming that is, you knew I existed and how to contact me.

And I'm only one person. There must be millions of others who have written useful material that has only been made available by ICT.

It's not just the amount of material either, it's also the cost. It's not quite free for the user, you still have to pay for electricity, computers, Internet access, etc. but most of those costs are spread over all the things which you do online, so the education part is probably quite cheap.

Access to teachers. People have had ways of getting access to non-local teachers for a long time, e.g. by correspondence courses and radio and TV programmes. Since the development of computers and the Internet, distance learning courses have proliferated at all levels. It is now possible to gain qualifications up to doctorate (PhD) level from well know institutions around the world. e.g. U.K. The Open University, USA, Harvard.

Many institutions have made some of their online courses available at no charge, further increasing opportunities for education. e.g. The Open University Open Learn, courses from various US universities.

Improving communication.

A society which has good communications is more likely to be economically successful than one that has poor links.

For most of history, communicating over a long distance has been slow and expensive. Messages had to be written down, or possibly memorised, and then physically transported to the recipient. A message might take days, weeks or even months to arrive. The telegraph and telephone improved matters in terms of time, but they remained expensive and still are in comparison to Internet based communications.

Early forms of Internet based communications were email and newsgroups. These were followed by forums, chatrooms and instant messaging.

Voice and video communications were available as well, but in the early years they required specialised hardware and software and were expensive. It wasn't until around the year 2000 that technology improved enough for voice and video communication to become cheap and widespread. There are now several systems, e.g. Skype and Google Hangouts, which enable free voice and video connections over the Internet.

Allowing people to participate in a wider, even worldwide, society.

An educated society which has good communication links is more likely to interact with other groups of people and spread societal benefits.

Of course, there will be groups and individuals who have an interest in preventing such benefits from spreading in their country and this can lead to repression, violence and even war. However, overall it appears that ICT, with it's accompanying communication and education tends to drive a society towards more freedom for its members.

This study is a brief and readable overview from 2011.

This is from 2012. It is a fairly short summary with lots of links to further information if you wish to explore the subject in depth.

Effects on Society, Negative effects

ICT can have a negative impact on society

Probably the largest effect that ICT use has on on society is allowing members of society to have greatly increased access to information.

This can have numerous negative effects, such as:

Many of these effects may also be seen as effects on individuals but they are considered here in a wider context where they affect society as a whole.

Causing a digital divide.

The digital divide is often represented as being a difference between rich and poor nations, with the rich nations having better facilities because they are able to pay for hardware and data access that poor countries cannot afford.

It should be appreciated however that this is a fairly simplistic view, A digital divide can occur within a nation as well as between nations and the cause is not always money.

No matter what the cause of the digital divide, the results are similar for the less enabled group. They have less opportunities for:

Some factors which cause groups to be on the wrong side of the digital divide are:

Reducing levels of education and understanding.

One of the great things about the Internet is that just about anyone, me for example, can publish their ideas.

One of the bad things about the Internet is that just about anyone can publish their ideas.

Don't forget, anyone can put up a web site, publish an e-book, make a Youtube video or post to a forum. They do not have to be truthful, sensible, or even sane.

Unfortunately the information on a very large number of sites is mistaken, biased, deluded, lies, propaganda, or just weird, The trick is being able to tell the difference between them and the useful ones.

The problem is that many people are not good at telling the difference and can be misled into behaviour which is bad for themselves and the society in which they live, causing moral and ethical problems.

This is covered in the page about ICT Legal Issues.

The effects of ICT on education

The impact of ICT on education gets mixed reviews

The effect of ICT on education is not given as required content in the IGCSE specification, but it is a useful example for discussing the effects of ICT on individuals, organisations, and society.

The individuals affected are not just students and teachers. There is a significant ICT industry built around supplying hardware and software for education. There is also a wider effect on parents, future employers of students, and those who supply Internet services.

On the positive side, the use of ICT in education can provide opportunities that might not otherwise exist, such as:

On the negative side:

Even if a subject can be taught effectively via ICT, and there is the money available, it does not always follow that there is any advantage to it.

There have been a lot of studies / assessments carried out, looking to see if ICT usage improves learning. The results are mixed.

Much simplified, it would appear that:

The manner in which the subject is taught probably has a larger effect than the mere use of ICT. i.e. if the teacher does not adapt their methods in order to make best use of ICT, the students do not gain from that use.

The attitude of the educational establishment also seems to have a greater effect. i.e. the people running them may not have the knowledge and experience, or often the money, to enable widespread and effective use of ICT in their schools.

The attitude of society / government can have a large impact of how ICT is perceived and thus how effectively it is used. Countries where the government encourages ICT usage and where the majority of the people use ICT on a daily basis are likely to make better use of ICT in education as well as in the larger society.

On the other hand, in countries where some uses of ICT are restricted because of e.g political or religious reasons, the use of ICT in education becomes less effective and may even be seen as a threat to those in power and thus actively discouraged.

The effects of ICT on the environment

ICT has both positive and negative impacts on the environment

The effect of ICT on the environment is not given as required content in the IGCSE specification, but it is a useful example for discussing the effects of ICT on individuals, organisations, and society.

There is a common perception that ICT has had a negative effect on the environment due to four main factors:

Obsolescence can be a particular problem for organisations. They may find that a large amount of equipment, such as a complete set of PCs may need replacing at the same time due to external circumstances that make the PCs obsolete. A recent example of this is the decision by Microsoft to end support of Windows XP.This will force some organisations to buy new PCs so that they can make the move to the Windows 7 or 8 operating system.

This Australian government report looks at the management of obsolescence within state-run education and police departments.

These perceived negative effects should however be looked at in conjunction with the positive effects of ICT on the environment. Some of these are:

ICT has enabled engineers and designers to produce more efficient machines. This has saved much more energy than has been used by ICT equipment.

ICT has enabled the, at least partial, replacement of wasteful and polluting technologies. e.g. the use of electronic documents instead of paper, the use of digital cameras instead of silver based photographic film.

A poll for you to waste some time on.

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