What is the impact of information technology on society?

From Quora answer to "What is the impact of information technology on society?"

This is a fascinating area of inquiry. It's also pretty broad. But I'll give you some observations as someone who was an IT professional for 15+ years:

1. Information is not knowledge, but IT creates the illusion of knowledge because it makes so much data readily available for analysis. The result is often that well-meaning folks - even academics and professionals - believe they "know" something when actually they haven't integrated all the information available into knowledge, but have just latched onto an informational veneer, a veneer that may currently have faddish traction or allure in their given field, but isn't well-considered.

2. IT presents a limited VR dimension of experience and interaction; it does not equate the rich level of exchange that occurs in the real world. But modern society has embraced this fa├žade as increasingly genuine, so that people believe they are really "interacting" online, really "befriending" or "falling in love" in virtual ways, really "having a conversation" on the Internet, etc. when of course they are only doing so in the most shallow and superficial ways. Face-to-face human interaction has increasingly been perceived as less important, which has devastating long-term consequences for building and maintaining "real" relationships.

3. Along similar lines, although on the one hand IT decreases the apparent distance between all sorts of interactions (producers and consumers, authors and readers, managers and employees, politicians and constituents, etc.) it also insulates and isolates us from the world around us. IT makes it possible for a person to do their job from home, order all consumer goods from home, interact with relatives from home, pay their bills from home, etc. And the resulting physical, psychological and emotional isolation undermines or distorts our development as human beings, our sense of political obligation and engagement, and our understanding of how we fit into the world - our sense of place and purpose.

4. Since its inception, IT has promised the replacement of human labor as a cost-saving and increased efficiency measure. However, this has had spotty success, because the costs are transferred from a legacy employee base and skill set to IT professionals, expensive hardware, and expensive software. In terms of efficiency, institutional memory is often lost along with specialized expertise, and replaced with much more generic (though equally specialized) IT proficiency. Additionally, the training and retraining curve for end users sometimes inhibits efficiencies - and of course IT systems can also stop working or make errors, further interrupting workflow.

5. In the same way, many businesses and institutions believe that IT is a panacea, able to solve all of their most persisting problems...but IT creates as many problems as it solves. However, the Pollyannaish conviction that IT is "the answer" has increasingly become quite irrational, prone to selective confirmation bias and high tolerance for cognitive dissonance, so that no matter how costly, problematic, inefficient, disruptive or crippling a given IT environment becomes, these businesses and institutions will keep investing more and more time, energy and money into it and continue blindly justifying their beliefs.

6. IT expands cultural connections, but it does so in ways that dilute each culture, because each culture must interface with others according to established protocols that greatly confine or narrow cultural expression. For instance, emails are expected to have a subject line that indicates content; tweets (initially) were 140 characters long; TED talks were limited to 12 minutes; English has been the dominant IT language and programming code relied on the Roman alphabet; QWERTY keyboards were the norm for many years...and so on.

7. In terms of organizing, storing, analyzing, compiling, generating, navigating, parsing, processing, propagating and communicating all sorts of information and media, IT is the most powerful force humanity has ever encountered outside of the human brain. IT also democratizes all of these capabilities, so that more and more people have access to that power.

You might think that because six out of seven of the societal impacts I listed weren't necessarily positive, that I don't appreciate IT. But I do. I still love IT - because of #7. Even though it isn't my profession anymore, I still follow new developments, play with new technologies, and engage in IT discussions like this one. But I have come to understand that IT does certain things very well, and other things either poorly or terribly. And until modern society comes to a similar realization about its strengths and limitations, IT will continue doing a lot more harm than good.

My 2 cents.


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