In semester one, I was given an assignment to write a 1000 word essay on my thoughts on “Information Systems impact on culture and society”. The essay took about 4 hours inclusive of referencing, and scored pretty well too. Hopefully you can take something out of this, regardless of whether you’re an über nerd or someone who doesn’t know how to turn on a computer.
Information Systems have come quite a long way in a relatively short span of years; from rooms filled with cabinets of hardware to store an amount of data that these days could be stored on a single chip the size of a fingernail, from the days of ARPANET with its 50kbps connection (Leiner, 2003) to broadband access almost anywhere on the face of the earth. As humanity become more acquainted with and depends more and more upon IS and IT, it is worth examining the impact that they have upon the world.
Information Systems combined with Information Technology have become an indispensable asset to modern businesses. Used together, IS and IT allow any business to exchange a vast array of information conveniently and instantly (Kroenke, Bunker & Wilson, 2010, p. 10). When used correctly, Information Systems can give a commercial business a competitive edge over the market – thus creating many jobs for IS and IT professionals. Online training and even working from home are made much easier and commonplace, allowing businesses to run much more time and cost effective.
IS and IT are not only useful for making a profit, however. The rapidly decreasing price of computer hardware due to Moore’s Law (Kroenke, Bunker & Wilson, 2010, p. 13) has enabled even third world countries to have access to computers and the internet to gain an education through the One Laptop Per Child association, founded by Nicholas Negroponte. The relatively inexpensive cost of a PC and an internet connection has led to a drastic increase in the amount of internet users worldwide. In the United States alone, the amount of internet users as a percentage of the population has risen from 0.801% in 1990 to an astonishing 72.4% in 2008 (World Bank, 2010).
With so many internet users, the range of applications and services available to the public via the internet seems almost endless. A multitude of services such as online banking, shopping and educational tools make life much simpler and safer for the public. IS and IT allow isolated communities without the resources for a library or even schools access to virtually endless information through online libraries and distance learning. Social interaction is also improved in many cases, allowing people who lead busy lifestyles to stay in contact with their family via video chat or equivalent.
However, whilst the advantages of IS and IT in society seem almost infinite, there is also a range of negative aspects that IS and IT inflict upon society. The precautions put in place over the ‘Y2K bug’ were estimated to have cost between 300 and 600 billion US dollars (BBC News, 2000). The world of IS and IT open up a plethora of new opportunities for criminals – identity theft and credit card fraud are a serious issue and have caused organisations like ‘ScamWatch’ to be put in place by the Australian government. Authorities have expressed their concerns over the privacy issues generated by social networking websites such as Facebook. These kind of issues have cultural repercussions; the Swiss and German authorities stated that because Facebook allows its users to upload others personal content to the site without their consent then Facebook “are not abiding by the law in Europe” (Reisinger, D 2010).
With the invention of the BitTorrent peer-to-peer file sharing protocol combined with cheap broadband connections, digital theft has become quite an issue. It is incredibly easy for anyone with a standard PC and internet connection to pirate software, and some of the earlier file sharing websites such as Kazaa and Grokster faced massive lawsuits from various record labels and Hollywood studios. In the case of MGM Studios Inc v Grokster, Grokster was forced to pay a total of US $50 million in damages.
With more and more children having access to the internet, a variety of problems have arisen – the first and foremost being cyber bullying. Every day new cases of cyber bullying are being published in the media, and the majority of the time the unfortunate outcome is suicide or the child dropping out of school. Many associations and educational programs for both parents and children have been formed to combat cyber bullying but it is still a rampant problem.
With IS and IT playing such a huge part in our everyday lives, there are organisations such as the UN trying to make internet access a human right (Best, M 2000) – and countries such as Estonia where access to the internet already is a human right (Woodard, C 2003). However, some cultures such as the Chinese have mandatory internet censorship. The censored version of Google for the Chinese, Google China, is the world’s largest internet search engine company. Due to an attack on Google nicknamed ‘Operation Aurora’, Google announced in their blog that “we are no longer willing to continue censoring our results on Google.cn…We recognize that this may well mean having to shut down Google.cn, and potentially our offices in China” (Google, 2010). The proposed internet censorship in Australia has been met with much resistance by public and businesses alike, with Google issuing a statement that the mandatory filtering could “negatively impact user access speeds and damage Australia’s international reputation” (Moses, A 2010).
Even though IS and IT has its social merits, there are those that have been negatively affected too. Internet addiction is becoming increasing prevalent, especially in teenagers. Video games and other applications allow people to spend countless hours online without need to leave the house. There are a range of organisations that help to prevent an internet addiction disorder. According to M Orzack, the director of the Computer Addiction Study Centre at Harvard’s McLean Hospital, 5-10% of internet users suffer from a ‘Web dependency’ (Goldman, L 2005).
Even though Information Systems and IT have numerous positive and negative aspects, it’s very difficult to deny that the human race would be able to function as effectively without it. The implications of no longer having Information Systems of Information Technology are disastrous.