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The release of Siri by Apple marked the beginning of a new era in human computer interaction. Siri is the leading voice recognition suite available commercially today. The virtual assistant is a big leap forward in voice recognition technologies. Siri goes beyond voice recognition because it accepts and processes voice commands (Apple Inc 2013). The virtual assistant brings to mind the old tale of Ali Baba and the forty thieves. Ali Baba used his voice to open a secret door to access treasures. What was magic in Ali Baba’s world is a reality for us today because of advances in Information and Communication Technology (ICT).
The goal of this paper is to determine whether ICT is bringing about revolutionary changes in our lives. The position of the paper is that ICT is causing revolutionary change to all sectors of human life. In order to prove this assertion, the paper examines how ICT is changing how people work, learn, and socialize. It also explores the drawbacks associated with these changes. Finally, the paper examines aspects of human life that ICT may never change. The totality of this discussion should confirm the thesis.
In order to set the stage for these discussions, it is imperative to clarify the meaning of ICT, as well as the meaning of revolutionary change. This paper takes the widest possible meaning of ICT in keeping with the general trend adopted by scholars (Holmes 2005). The reason for this is that changes occur very fast in the ICT sector. Any fixed definition risks becoming obsolete faster than a click of the mouse. This broad definition includes broadcasting systems, telecommunications, and communication via computers (Haddon 2004). It also includes all related communication devices such as personal computers, tablets, phones, television sets, among others. In summary, the working definition of ICT in this paper is any systems or devices used in data handling.
Scholars who use the term revolutionary change usually refer to political and social change. According to Johnson (1982, p. 1), revolutionary change is “a special kind of social change, one that involves the intrusion of violence into civil social relations”. Environmental scholars use it in futuristic terms when discussing the adjustments the human race needs to make to deal with climate change (Holmes 2005). ICT scholars use the term when discussing the changes human society is currently experiencing because of advances in ICT (Hanna 2010). They also call this phenomenon a “technological revolution” (Hanna 2010, p. 28). The common thread between these views is that any revolutionary change alters the way of life in irreversible ways (Johnson 1982). The paper adopts this meaning.
Revolutionary Changes Due to ICT
History shows us that every generation develops tools and technologies that alter the way of life. For instance, the invention of gunpowder changed how armies wage war. The invention of the electric bulb changed how people light their homes. These examples show that revolutionary change is not new to this generation. Rather, change is part of the process of the development of human civilization (Davis 1989). This section looks at how ICT is affecting how people learn, how they work, and how they socialize. It also explores the nature of changes regarding how people receive services from utility providers and governments. In addition, it looks at the setbacks arising from the adoption of ICT systems that constitute a revolutionary change in the way people live.
Work is as old as history itself. In all civilizations, people sought to make work easier by using new technologies. ICT is at the forefront of changing how people work. Two decades ago, it was rare to find people working from home. Today, it is commonplace. ICT makes it possible for people to work from anywhere (Dube, Berner & Roy 2009). The use of computers is one of the significant changes in the way people work. Two decades ago, computers were very technical tools used by specially trained workers. The high cost of computers made it impossible for middle level workers to access computers. Today, it is almost impossible to find anyone with a desk job working without a computer.
This is because computers make it easy to work using minimal resources. The internet is also playing a part in this change. Before the adoption of the free internet, business process outsourcing did not exist (Holmes 2005). Today, it is entirely possible for an Indian accountant to prepare tax returns for a US citizen. Many companies have call centers operated overseas to allow them to concentrate on their core business. Apart from these, it is no longer necessary for business executives to fly around the world to attend business meetings. Platforms like Skype make it possible to have meetings via teleconference. These changes are all revolutionary in the context of how people work.
The second area where we are experiencing a revolutionary change because of technology is in the area of education. The intended meaning of education is not just a formal academic experience, but also the entire process of acquiring meaningful information. Many universities now offer distance learning courses and virtual learning courses. It is possible to earn a degree from a university located halfway across the world without setting foot on the physical premises of the university. Registration takes place online and students receive modules via the internet (Posner 2012). Virtual libraries make it possible for student to access library materials from anywhere in the world.
These changes are revolutionary considering the number of students who found it necessary to travel overseas at great cost to attend college. Another change in how people learn brought about by technology is the inclusion of ICT classes in almost all the courses (Mitchell 2012). Almost all professions today have ICT tools unique to their discipline that they need to master in college. Engineers have software for engineering design, movie producers have video editing software, and accountants have accounting software. Even in cases where there is no specialized software for use, it is still necessary to use office applications to carry out routine work.
The current wave in ICT is mainly dealing with how people socialize. Whenever a technology reaches critical mass, people innovate to make it useful for socialization (Dixon 1999). For instance, the development of the internet came about to support research and military communications. However, after the users of these first generation networks reached critical mass, emails came up. This made it possible for people to handle planning for social engagements within these networks. The socialization of ICT did not start with the development of social networks. When the first phones and the telegraph became operational, they went through the same transition.
Today, Facebook and Twitter are leading the uptake of online social networking (Mather 2012). These two sites are only two of very many social platforms that technology is making available today. YouTube supports sharing of videos. The videos people share on YouTube usually arises from day to day experiences. People can talk online using platforms such as Skype and Google talk. They can also share photos using Pintrest. Apart from these, blogs also provide people with an avenue for sharing their thoughts and ideas on any topic of interest. ICT is creating virtual communities. Virtual communities did not exist before ICT systems became available to the masses (Jeffrey & Norton 2006). They have changed how people interact. In this sense, ICT is responsible for revolutionary change in how people interact.
Before the internet, people received monthly bills from utility providers and sent checks to clear their bills. Today, people receive bills on email and pay the bills via PayPal and credit cards, or by using any other of the myriad online payment options. When there were disruptions in supply, utility providers initially relied on radio and television to pass the message. Today, utilities tweet and update their status on Facebook in regards to emergencies, supply disruptions, changes in pricing and other matters that affect their services to consumers. It is normal today to buy airline tickets online and even to check-in via the internet (Wittmer, Bieger & Muller 2011).
In fact, some airlines are operating paperless ticketing. On governance, ICT is leading the creation of e-government practices across the world. Government services in many countries are now available online (Hanna 2010). This includes application for passports, and other statutory documents. It is possible to access government data such as laws and regulations online. It makes planning very easy for citizens. The changes listed in the area of access to services are revolutionary. They have altered how people access commercial and social services. These changes are only possible because of ICT.
Some concerns have emerged because of the advances and mass availability of ICT systems. One of the main concerns is terrorism. Terrorists use technology to coordinate attacks, or they attack ICT systems to disrupt essential services. The terrorist attack in Mumbai is a good case in point where terrorists used technology to coordinate a sophisticated attack. The terrorists used the AK-47 rifle just like many conventional terrorists. What set them apart was their use of technology. In one room, the terrorists found an old man who claimed to be a schoolteacher. They sent his ID to their command center and after searching on Google, they discovered that he was the second richest businessman in India (Mitchell 2012). They killed him. Note that they did not need to send the details to their control room. A simple phone with access to the internet was all they needed to identify the man.
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A terrorist with a cell phone is many times more powerful because of the resources accessible to him via the conventional ICT infrastructure. This is scary. Another front in the battle against terrorism in ICT is the security of military systems. Military systems run on communication platforms that sophisticated hackers can access. This type of risk may be lower in advanced countries than in developing countries. However, if terrorists take control of an intercontinental missile located in a country with weaker ICT security, the missile is a threat to the whole world. A final example is the use of cell phones to detonate bombs remotely. A smart phone is even capable of giving GPS coordinates of its location. Using this, a terrorist can fine tune the detonation time if the bomb is in a moving vehicle. In this sense, ICT is responsible for revolutionary change in the demands of world security because of the possibility that terrorists can use ICT to cause harm.
One interesting development that ICT will eventually bring is the loss of handwriting skills. Students start typing as soon as they start going to school. In fact, they start using keyboards and keypads much earlier if we count the time they start to play computer games before school. Handwriting is almost as old as organized human civilization. The shift from hand written work to typed work will lead to the loss of one of the defining elements of our collective intellectual heritage. The invention of the printing press was the first step in the loss of this skill. However, since the printing presses were few, the loss did not take place. Right now, more and more students are going to school to learn via computers, or are growing up with computers in their homes. This is a radical shift in the development of human culture. ICT is threatening to wipe out a defining element of human civilization.
The loss of handwriting skills is significant because of the place of the written word in the generation and preservation of knowledge. However, several skills mastered by hand are also under threat. These skills include playing musical instruments, drawing, and painting, among others. Many old musicians feel a loss whenever they listen to computer-generated music. Skills that took them years to learn and master are now available for a few dollars via computer software. Skills in music are not about learning how to play and care for an instrument anymore. Music skills in the ICT age are a measure of how well someone can use music composition software.
While optimists in the music industry feel that computer generated music will not replace old school music made by playing real instruments, the fear is that a time will come when music listeners will not know how music from the real instruments sound. In arts such as drawing and painting, people now use software such as Paint and Adobe Illustrator to develop digital drawings. The knowledge relating to the choice of pencils, the use of paintbrushes and picking out hues is becoming obsolete. These expressions of art will disappear as time moves on. In this sense, a revolutionary change is ongoing in relation to the development of skills that computers are reproducing easily and cheaply.
Things ICT Cannot Change
Some good news is still available for technophobes. ICT is not altering the fundamentals of human nature. It only alters how people express this nature. The qualities that define human beings that ICT is not changing include the social nature of human beings and the sense of humaneness. In addition, ICT is not changing any biological functions, and it does not change our fundamental weaknesses.
Human beings are social beings. People need to interact with others for them to remain well adjusted. There are fears that ICT will reduce the capacity of people to interact. The fear comes from the popularity of online social networking platforms. At some point, everyone with access to the social media will have two social lives (Bernoff & Li 2008). The two social lives will be their virtual social life and their tactile social life. The choice of the word tactile is deliberate because both expressions are an authentic part of social expression. It is very tempting to characterize these two lives as a virtual life, and a “real life”. Therefore, the phrase “real life” is not an accurate characterization of tactile experiences. In fact, is includes both aspects of social relations under review. ICT will not destroy the social bond that knits people together. The emergence of social media is testament to the fact that people use available technologies to develop their social lives (BenMassaoud, Kharrazi & MacDorman 2011).
The emergence of social media will have an impact in the expression of social relations. It is this impact that will constitute a revolutionary change in how people interact. People tend to have fewer concerns about the opinions of other people when they interact on social media. Part of the reason for this is that in Facebook, posts are personal. The same issues would be very different if there was a fixed audience. The anonymity of social media also gives some people courage to say things they cannot tell a physical audience. In this sense, ICT is not changing the primary human quality of interaction. It is only bringing new possibilities.
ICT will also not change the humaneness of humankind. One quality that separates the human race from the rest of the animals is that human beings have the ability to empathize. This ability will not disappear because of changes in ICT. The Siri platform developed by Apple can help to illustrate this point. While Siri is efficient in terms of planning and task execution, it cannot empathize with a person. A human assistant will tell whether her boss needs flowers, a cake or a jewel as a birthday present based on their relations. Siri will not decide to buy that cake for the boss as a surprise gift. Another illustration is that if the boss loses someone close to them, a human assistant can decide not to let calls through for a few hours to allow the boss to compose himself. Siri is incapable of such decisions because Siri does not know what a bereaved person needs. A third illustration is that any boss would rather have a human virtual assistant when they slip from a stair rather than Siri. Siri cannot help you up. There are human qualities that no software or ICT equipment will be able to replace.
It may seem farfetched to include human biological functions as part of a discussion on the impacts ICT on the human race. However, ICT is affecting all aspects of human life. Biological function is not an exemption. The fundamental biology of the human body does not have any visible threats from ICT. We will always eat regardless of developments in IT. We will also need to sleep, to procreate, and to develop physically. In other words, our life processes will carry on regardless of developments in ICT. However, there are impacts associated with how we interact with IT equipment (Phillips 2010). The field of Human Computer Interaction (HCI) leads research in this regard. Commercial products that can take commands based on eyeball movements are already on the market.
These products will make it possible for those with minimal physical movement such as victims of severe stroke or other nervous disorders to communicate more robustly. However, ICT will make inroads into how we handle certain biological functions. For instance, nano-surgery will enable people with missing limbs to receive artificial limbs that they can control using their nerves (BenMassaoud, Kharrazi & MacDorman 2011). This will restore them to normalcy. In isolation, such developments will be revolutionary. However, their total impact on the entire human race will not qualify as revolutionary.
ICT will also not deal with our basic social problems. Social ills include issues like rape, bullying, theft and robbery, drug trafficking and drug abuse, social discrimination among others. These problems are as old as humanity. In a certain sense, they define humanity. ICT does not have the capacity to deal with these problems because they are issues unique to human nature. For instance, ICT may make it easier to identify muggers by the use of CCTV cameras and facial recognition software. However, this does not address the basic problem, which in this case is the motivation to steal. ICT will keep making it harder for people to carry out criminal activities. However, it will not handle the underlying causative factors.
In conclusion, it is evident that ICT is having a huge impact on the daily lives of most people. Most of these changes represent leaps in the development of human civilization. However, the changes do not fundamentally alter human nature. The overall verdict of the changes caused by ICT is that it is leading to revolutionary change in human life based on the way humanity is expressing itself.
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