Implication of information rich & information poor in our society
Category : Information Technology
Information Policy & Law
Living in a digital age has catapulted society to greater heights with its transition into an information society ( 1996). Although most people harbour a utopian perception of society in the information age, with people being empowered and liberated by information technology, this perception is merely ideal making it divergent from reality in a number of areas. In the business world, many companies dependent upon information technology are having problems in looking for employees with sufficient IT skills. This creates an IT skills gap between the acceptable skills required by companies and the skills that majority of available workforce hold, which points out a disparity between common ideal perception and reality. In the education system, spanning the primary to college education, there are still a significant portion of students with minimal knowledge over the use of information technology. In fact, most students gain interest in computers and the internet for reasons other than for academic learning such as shopping, chatting or gaming. In governance, although most developed countries have integrated information technology into their service delivery mechanisms, network alignment is still problematic with the different government agencies lacking information and service linkages. Majority of governments in underdeveloped countries still depend upon manual systems.
(2005) defined information society as a state where “human capacity is expanded, built up, nourished and liberated, by giving people access to the tools and technologies they need, with the education and training to use them effectively.” The UN Secretary-General’s definition has various implications on the actual dynamics of the information society. First is the recognition of the achievement of information society as a process of shifting from one stage to the other. Second is the need for resource allocation in technology acquisition, education and training. Third is access to technology for the enhancement of learning and skills in information technology utilisation. Thus, achieving an information society involves the streamlining of the efforts of the public and private sector in the acquisition of technology, education and training on information technology, and the application of IT learning and skills in different societal endeavours.
Changes in IT Use for the Last 10 Years
Information technology has gone through a lot of changes in the last decade. Previously, computers have been considered as a tool for completing academic work or accomplishing business reports through software aiding in the organisation and analysis of information. With the increased popularity of the internet, this propelled a different use for computer technology with the idea of increasing convenience for people. ( & 2000; Long distance learning was introduced allowing students to obtain lessons through the school’s website to post assignments and join in chat room discussions. Business networking allowed firms to globalize their operations through the networked running or monitoring through videoconferencing, emails, secured information sharing access and outsourcing. Public service delivery was supported by the direct and coordinated information sharing and services. A number of government agencies have created official websites where people can access information, obtain and fill-up application documents, monitor the progress of their filed concerns, and contact the customer relations officer of the government agency for concerns.
Amidst the improvement in computer hardware and software together with the popularisation of the internet are several important changes in information technology use. One is the shift in using information technology as an academic and business tool to using IT as a necessity (. Different sectors of society have gained dependence on information technology for the accomplishment of tasks previously limited to manual work. In academic learning, research and report write-ups are now completed by using online libraries and using various data presentation software. With regard to business, operations managements are digitalized while marketing greatly taps into the World Wide Web. In relation to government service, almost all services are delivered through the internet except only for certain transaction involving the confirmation of identity in which case the concerned individual need to show up to prove that he and the online applicant are the same person. Reports and fact sheets on the issues concerning government agencies are also accessible through the internet. Second is the shift in using information technology for business to using IT for personal reasons (. The growth in the utilisation of information technology over the past decade has been more attributed to household and individual engagement rather than to business use. This means that an increasing number of households and individuals have acquired this technology for their personal use. Third is the change in using information technology for technical concerns to using IT for social communication (. With the engagement of more individuals in information technology use, more people are using IT to communicate to family, friends and business partners.
Implications of IT Use
The changes in the utilization of information technology imply one major thing, the commercialization of the technology. The increasing popularity of internet use has opened the opportunity for business firms servicing hardware, software and technical solutions to tap into the market to boost their revenue generation. The enhanced utilisation of information technology in last decade resulted to the commercialization of this technology. Business firms recognized that by setting a price for IT hardware, software and services they can increase their gains from their investment in IT research and development. Concurrently, in the area of information policy, laws on intellectual property have gained importance for IT developers to gain exclusive right to appropriate innovations. At present, almost all IT innovations belong to different companies and complete utilisation of these innovations requires people to pay for downloads or access.
In the future, this trend is expected to increase especially with empires being sustained through copyright and exclusive appropriation. Moreover, there would be greater dependence on IT because IT ownership has created compatibility problems for users so that people obtaining a certain OS need to use software compatible with that OS otherwise the technology will not work properly. The fast changing information technology has also resulted to the need for people to upgrade their systems for continued utilisation. This means that people have to select a certain company or brand and stick to it to achieve compatibility and pay for regular updates to continue utilisation. In the long-run people find themselves deeply involved in these commercialisation complexities.
Emergence of Technology Information/Communication Gap
With commercialisation, society has become divided into the people with and without the resources to access IT. However, defining and understanding the gap has been subject to different opinions because of its complexity. Nevertheless, the gap is actually a re-emergence of historical dichotomies in information access and use. , and (1970, ) introduced the idea of ‘knowledge gap’ explained through the situation where “as the infusion of mass media information into a social system increases, segments of the population with higher socio-economic status tend to acquire this information at a faster rate than the lower status segments, so that the gap in knowledge between these segments tends to increase rather than decrease”. Based on this conceptualization of knowledge gap, two implications arise. One is the previous existence of a knowledge gap widened by the introduction of mass media communications technology and the other is the widening of the gap because of the infusion of mass media technology and due to the limitation in access. However, this explanation has been subject to both supporting and conflicting claims. With the advancement in information technology use, the gap has changed to ‘information gap’ to cover not only knowledge of communications technology but also the utilisation of this technology in everyday life. Understanding the gap has expanded to cover issues of access and training.
Barriers to Access and Utilisation of Information Technology
Despite the provision that the information gap is caused by distribution and not the limitation in access to information technology, it should be recognized that the commercialized distribution of information technology to the entire population limits access to segments of the population without the capacity to pay for this technology. It is a fact that information technology has a monetary price ( 2001).
Apart from this barrier to access and use of information technology, there are other limiting factors. One is the lack of fundamental skills and the intervention of fear in technology utilization ( 1996). Although populations in developed countries take pride in individual members attuned to innovations in information technology, they might be surprised to find out that there are still a significant portion of the population who don’t own personal computers or own computers but with limited mastery of its diverse uses due to lack of information and the fear of this unknown. This segment of the population is commonly comprised of individuals belonging to the older age groups and those with low levels of education.
Another barrier is lack of access to computers and the internet ( 1996). These people belong to different demographic classifications such as age, income level and ethno-cultural background with income as the defining factor. This supports the contention that information gap includes the issue of accessibility since people with lower income, regardless of age or ethno-cultural background, are likely to have less access to pricy information technology. This means that even if the people with little knowledge on information technology or those fearful of using this technology transcend these incapacitations and become willing to learn the manner of using this technology, accomplishing this may still not be possible due to their lack of access to computers or the internet.
Still another barrier is the insufficiency in user-friendliness of information technology ( 1996). Although information technology companies claim to simplify lives with this innovation, justifying the simplification process is largely dependent on the acceptability of innovations. For people with basic knowledge of computers and internet operations, engaging in current innovations is just an easy feat because they just have to draw on their previous knowledge and integrate system enhancements; but for people lacking fundamental knowledge of computer systems, new technology constitutes a difficult task. This means that even with willingness of people to engage in advanced information technology, actual utilisation is barred by lack of basic knowledge, something that business firms assume people to know in marketing their products, and access due to lack of economic resources.
Lastly, another barrier is the insufficiency and unevenness in the distribution of opportunities for use ( 1996). Although computers have achieved more use with the infusion of the internet, people do not necessarily catch-up with increasing updates and upgrades. As an example, Windows Vista, the latest OS of Microsoft needs you to also upgrade other software for compatibility. This means that not only do you have to pay to download the OS but you also have to upgrade all existing software, which may already be a luxury to some people.
Policy Implications of the Information Gap
An initial implication is the recognition of policy makers of the existence of an information gap. Despite the differences in opinion on the nature, causes and implications of the information gap, it cannot be denied that there is a gap between the segment of the population engaged in information technology and the portion of the population unengaged in this technology. Another implication is the need to determine to the causes of the information gap. Although different barriers arise for different countries depending upon their context, there are four general information technology barriers, which are: 1) limited capacity to pay; 2) lack of fundamental skills and intervention of fear; 3) insufficient user-friendliness of the technology; and 4) uneven distribution of opportunities for access and use. Another concurrent implication is the development and implementation of core policies directed towards these barriers. A sound policy would be the creation of gainful employment opportunities for most people together with education and training on information technology to provide people with basic knowledge on information access and use while they gain income from capitalizing on this skill in their employment. Another viable policy is the regulation of technology monopolization by companies seeking to take advantage of innovations to neutralize competition, giving them free reign over the marketing of certain innovations. While commercialization allows businesses to compete resulting to more options for consumers, this could also be abused by leading information technology innovators. It is only through addressing these barriers that we can truly achieve an information society.