Impact of Computer Technology on Modern Society and Culture

2788 words (11 pages) Essay in Computer Science

18/04/18 Computer Science Reference this

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Establishing the Foundations of Modern Computer Systems

In 1812, mathematics professor Charles Babbage laid the foundations of modern computing when he recognised the relation between machines and mathematics, machines performed tasks repeatedly without making mistakes, while mathematics often requires the repetition of particular tasks or steps. Ten years after making his discovery Babbage began the development of a machine that would have been the first general-purpose computer, the Analytical Engine.

The construction of the Analytical Engine was never finalised during Babbage’s lifetime, but a century later to determine if the machine worked and it did. None the less the concept was a breakthrough in technology at the time as it outlined the required elements of the modern computer system; perforated cards containing operating instructions that acted as input devices, a memory that could store up to a thousand numbers, a control unit that could process the instructions in any sequence and an output device that would produce printed results, the essential elements of the modern day computerised system.

The Modern Era

The past fifth-teen years have seen major changes to many aspects of modern society and how we carry out our everyday activities and tasks, all through the means of computer technology. Many new innovative technologies have been developed that have altered of our daily life. We are now considered to be living through the Information Age, and the decisive technology of this age would have to be the Internet. It would be rare to find an organisation or household that does not experience the use of the Internet. The Internet can be used at home, at work or on the move depending on what device you are using.

The New Speed of Information & Knowledge

Consider the speed at which we can now access almost any piece of information as computers and the Internet have made the dissemination of information and knowledge easier and much faster. The Internet provides this by connecting a computer to networks and using applications such as web browsers and search engines to access information, the Internet stores this information in the form of databases and webpages. Previous to the availability of the Internet people would have to request information by sending a letter, ask someone who knows the answer, read literature or make a telephone call.

Digital Communities

The Internet has created new forms of communication that are cost-free and much faster methods of gaining that sought after piece of information. Online community forums or message boards enable members to communicate with each other by exchanging tips or discussing topics. They can save information posted about a particular topic for other people to view at any time, therefore creating a discussion environment where everything that gets posted can be read numerous times. These virtual communities differ from traditional conversation as the interaction between members does not happen in real-time, forum members will often consider their comments before making a reply, helping to ensure that high-quality information is shared.

A popular forum will have valuable members who are knowledgeable about many topics and will usually try to show this in their posts, this creates knowledge and useful tips for other members of the website. Forums can establish online communities, since people often return to the website on a regular basis to check previous posts or catch up on what has been happening since the last time they logged in. Building relationships with other members of forums is easy, if you regularly post and discuss topics then other forum members will get to know you and in turn you will get to know other members.

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Online virtual communities are rapidly replacing the physical community in society, an attraction of the online community is that members interact with other members of similar interests. Many people believe that there are negative effects from activity participating with online communities. They believe that members of these services often have reduced ability when interacting with their traditional community, this is due to the fact that members do not need to reveal their true identity. Members often remain anonymous as they can contribute thoughts and ideas under an online identity or avatar. Anonymous members can change their name, gender, appearance, occupation, sexual orientation and many other aspects of their personal details. For many shy people this can be a positive reason for becoming members of online communities, but if a person does have difficultly integrating with the traditional community then surely continuing to participate with online communities will not resolve this issue.

Social Networking & Media

The past five years or so have seen the introduction of social networking websites which allow users to connect with each other and share information in various formats. The emphasis in social networking is on two-way communication, not only can you publish information but your readers can comment on that information. Although the original users of social networking were computer-literate people who were publishing information for a small audience, this has changed dramatically. The creation of social networking and social media websites such as Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, Instagram and YouTube have attracted massive audiences. These websites can allow you to find and connect with fellow workers, a relative located at the other side of the globe or a school colleague from many years ago. There are millions of people sharing information in the form of blogs, millions of videos uploaded to YouTube and billions of images shared on Flickr and Instagram.

Participating with these new electronic environments can make you feel like you are part of a large community, but they also have downsides. Today’s youth have perhaps been particularly affected by social networking and computers as an entertainment source in general. As music, video, games, images and all forms of media can now be stored and viewed on home computers and devices, many modern teenagers are now sitting in their bedrooms playing video games, talking on message services or updating their social networking webpages. This is believed to be leading to a form of isolation that could affect their ability to interact with others later in life.

Social networking and media has proved advantageous in times of disaster and emergency, by providing on-the-ground information in a disaster area or providing community support. This medium has become a vital part of disaster response, filling a void in areas where mobile phone technology has lost service.

For example as Dina Fine Maron states in her article, How Social Media Is Changing Disaster Response, on scientificamerican.com: “Hurricane Sandy slammed the eastern seaboard last year, social media had become an integral part of disaster response, filling the void in areas where cell phone service was lost while millions of Americans looked to resources including Twitter and Facebook to keep informed, locate loved ones, notify authorities and express support. Gone are the days of one-way communication where only official sources provide bulletins on disaster news.”

Cyberbullying

Cyberbullying can also take place in the electronic environment of these social networking websites. This involves predators posting messages of an intimidating or threatening nature, either anonymously or posing as a person the victim trusts. Children are often vulnerable to cyberbullying attacks, which can have devastating effects and leave deep mental scars. Many of these attacks have been documented in recent news and media articles, unfortunately many of the victims have been driven to suicide. Cyberbullying has spread vastly among the youth of today, a 2010 CBS News report suggested that 42% reported being victims (As stated by whoever it was on whatever website this was).

Social networking and media has become a matter of concern for employers, managers and business owners now use the tactic of monitoring employee’s social networking and media webpages. Some job terminations have been the result of unsuitable content being contained on employee’s webpages or posting comments that speak unfavourably about the business they work for. It is considered that some companies are over restrictive about their policies regarding blogging, posts on social networking websites and the uploading of various media.

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New Shopping Methods & Business Methods

The rapid advances of the Internet has revolutionised the shopping behaviours of consumers and the way many companies now conduct business activities. Shopping in the business to customer environment is becoming increasingly popular for many people, this is due to the numerous benefits and the convenience that the Internet offers.

If you are a modern business owner, your business needs to have an Internet presence as the Internet provides access to a potentially global customer base. The Internet has help create many entrepreneurs who have entered the online market with a good business idea and benefited from the low start-up costs. Many barriers and obstacles involved with starting a traditional physical store have been removed, in fact many people than run an Internet business from home while holding down a full-time position.

Unlike high-street shopping, consumers are not restricted to the traditional model of shopping within store opening hours as they can make purchases 24 hours-per-day, seven day-per-week. Store location is no longer a concern for consumers, as enquiries or transactions regarding any product or service provided by a company can be made any time, from almost any location across the globe. They no longer need to wait in queues for long periods of time waiting to purchase a popular item on sale or push a shopping cart around aisles trying to locate a desired item. The Internet and websites allow consumers to click through navigation menus or use a search box to narrow down their search. Consumers can make purchases from the comfort of their home or on the move with the use of smartphones and other mobile devices.

As Peter J. Bentley writes on page 11 of his book Digitized: “You switch on your computer and launch the Internet browser. A one-word search for ‘pizza’ finds a list of pizza restaurants in your area. One click with the mouse and you are typing in your address to see if the restaurant delivers. They do! And they also allow you to order online. You choose the type of pizza you feel like, adding your favourite toppings. The restaurant even allows you to pay online, so you type in your credit card number, your address, and the time you’d like the delivery. You choose ‘as soon as possible’ and click ‘pay’. Just thirty-five minutes later there is a knock on your door. The pizza is here, smelling delicious. You tip the delivery guy and take your pizza to your table to eat.”

I believe Peter has described perfectly in this extract from his book, how the Internet has changed shopping habits for millions of people across the world. The disadvantage of this new convenience is that many local high-street shops are disappearing from the high-street and many large businesses are going out of business. This of course has a negative effect on local communities as they are indirect stakeholders connected with many of these local businesses. Local businesses experiencing success provide a good-feel factor and more importantly jobs for local communities.

The Labour Force

The continued evolution of computing suggests that they will be programmed to provide more convenience for us in the future, and hence society will continue to be deskilled in many different aspects. For example, even with the invention of the simple calculator we have deskilled our mathematical abilities. This deskilling due to the advancements in technology have an impact on the labour force and market, technological change that requires the skills of highly educated workers increases the demand for these workers, whereas innovative change in technology can reduce the demand for workers with skills based on redundant technology.

This situation has been repeated throughout history and was a direct effect of the industrial revolution. During the 18th and 19th centuries rapid advancements in technology changed the way people lived and worked, mass production techniques meant the construction of many large factories with large workforces. This did create new forms of employment, but it also deskilled much of society as these new jobs involved repetitive monotonous tasks, hence reducing the demand for skilled workers. The industrial revolution resulted in work being more regimented and less skilled, many consider this a comparison against today’s current information revolution.

Computer technology is moving at a pace that is outrunning the ethical issues that surround its use in the workplace. Employers have been seen to establish ethical boundaries that infringe on employee privacy rights and restricting communication abilities. Accessibility of the Internet allows employees to access personal email and talk to family and friends in various different ways. Employers believe this effects the employees focus on tasks at work and has led to many employers observing employee communications during working hours. An ethical dilemma has developed from employers viewing employee’s personal data that has led to courtroom action being taken against employers, employee job termination and many complaints being filed.

The innovation of new devices like portable laptops and smartphones has meant that working from almost any location on the globe is possible with the use of a Wi-Fi connection. For many employees this has shifted the traditional eight-hour working day, again another issue of ethics. As computer technology now provides employers with the ability to make requests of employees at any time of the day, does it mean that it is correct ethical thing to do? The modern working day is transforming into a 24 hour experience.

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Another issue of ethics that arises in the modern workplace is the ownership of company equipment. Problems arise when employees decide to make use of equipment for non-work related purposes, which could possibly include searching for a new job or accepting personal communication. Employers must define clear policies when using company equipment in the workplace and when loaned to an employee, therefore creating an ethical standard when using equipment.

Pervasive Computing

The terms “pervasive computing” and “ubiquitous computing” refer to the embedment of microprocessors in all everyday objects from household appliances, to a pair of glasses, to clothing, and so on so that information can be communicated. This new method of data collection will involve the combination of wireless technologies (such as Wi-Fi and Bluetooth), electronics and the Internet. The objective of pervasive computing is to create smart products that will communicate information continuously without interruption, while being connected to the Internet where the collection of data is easily available.

Ethical debates have arisen from the purposed development of pervasive computing, privacy issues as personal information could be viewed and the effect this new technology may have on the labour workforce. For example, the replacement of electric meters with smart meters (which record electric usage to the Internet) have resulted in the deskilling of workers who would have manually read and recorded the electric meter figures. Another example of how modern technology has replaced employees with a more convenient method of performing an everyday task, after-all we no longer need to answer the door to the worker who would have inspected your meter, the process is now automated.

Privacy stands as the main barrier for the long-term success of pervasive computing. The computer technology is now trying to understand if the current privacy principles that exist in the industry are a true reflection of the ordinary member of society. What are users concerns and preferences about the management of private information and what procedures should be installed that will ensure satisfactory implementation. The main advantage of pervasive computing is that it will improve efficiency from a practical standing.

Cloud Computing: Technology of the Future

From the knowledge gathered while conducting this research project, I have decided to conclude the report by discussing Cloud Computing, the computer technology I believe will have the most dramatic affect society and culture.

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