In addition to driving our economy and affecting how we work and what jobs we do, IT affects how we relate to one another, how we learn, and not only how we access information but also what information we obtain. Overall, IT has been a very positive contributor to our welfare, but it raises some troubling questions.
Today we are easily connected to one another through electronic media such as cell phones, email, instant messaging, Twitter, and Facebook so that we can stay in close contact with and share information with more and more individuals than ever before. Does this lead to more healthy and fulfilling relationships than we had when most of our interaction was face-to-face, or does it lead to more and more superficial ties? Or can we have both more and better quality relationships through the judicious use of these technologies?
Children are spending more and more time alone watching television, playing video games, and sitting at computer screens and less and less time in traditional play activities with playmates. Play has an important role in physical and emotional development, and over the past few years, childhood obesity has become a national health issue in the United States. Furthermore, all of this exposure to intense stimuli seems to be resulting in decreased attention spans of our children in the school environment.
Many recent case studies have explained that prolonged exposure to the intense information overload resulting from the constant use of electronic media can alter the development of the brain and even rewire adult brains. What will be the impact, if any, on our society if these trends continue? Not too long ago, the educational technology used by most teachers was limited to overhead projectors, slide projectors, and movie projectors that supplemented the blackboard that had been the mainstay for generations. Today the digital revolution has provided a host of alternatives that are changing the way education is delivered by educators and pursued by students. Distance education opportunities allow students to obtain advanced degrees from anywhere in the world at one’s own pace and without even visiting the degree-granting institution. There are obvious advantages to many students, but it also raises the question: Is the expense and inefficiency of the traditional residential university justified in today’s technological world?
Finally, it is clear that traditional print media such as newspapers, magazines, and books are losing out to digital media. Newspapers and magazines are going out of business right and left, and the Kindle and iPad are putting pressure on book publishers. Traditional journalism, where reporters are trained to verify facts and avoid bias, is giving way to blogs and opinionated programs masquerading as news. News programs that attempt to adhere to traditional journalistic values are losing viewers to overtly biased cable channels that appeal to specific population groups, and the most popular hosts are those who shout the loudest and are the most opinionated. If one believes that a successful democracy depends upon an electorate that is well informed about the issues, what do these trends portend for our future? It would require an entire book to do justice to the social, legal, and ethical issues in IT.