Information & Communication Technology 1996-2003

GCSE Revision

Social Effects of Information Systems

Information systems are a significant part of our society. Inevitably they will have an effect in many ways on what we do both now and in the future.

This information originally appeared on the website of Painsley School, Staffordshire. It has been copied here as it no longer exists on their website.

Social and Economic Effects of IT

Before the industrial revolution nearly everyone worked in agriculture. Communication was by word of mouth or paper. When the industrial revolution came, life became more complicated. People started to work in factories and the factories needed offices to deal with administration. The amount of paperwork needed to trade started to increase. As time went on, technology was used to develop machines such as the typewriter, telephone and telex machines and eventually, the computer. We are now in an 'information age' and our society is very dependent on information storage and communication. Many are now using some form of information technology to help them.

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Is information technology a good thing?

Some arguments for and against IT are given below. You may agree or disagree with these.

Arguments in favour

  • The jobs replaced by computers are the rather mundane ones. People are free to do more interesting tasks.
  • Higher productivity enables people to work fewer hours and yet have the same standard of living. A greater amount of leisure time will improve people's quality of life.
  • Other countries make use of IT. If we did not, our goods and services would become uncompetitive and there would be even more unemployment.
  • There are many tasks that would be impossible without the use of IT. Air-traffic control, credit cards, space travel and medical research are just some examples.
  • New jobs are being created by the introduction of IT e.g. programming, network managing etc.

Arguments against

  • Life without IT is slower and less stressful.
  • Computers are cheaper than people are so if a computer can do a job then it will lead to higher unemployment.
  • The new jobs being created by the use of IT are only for highly skilled and qualified people.
  • The people who did the boring repetitive jobs now done by computers no longer have a job.
  • The storage of personal data held on computer has eroded people's privacy.
  • The gap will be widened between those countries able to afford the new technologies and those that can't.

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Changing Employment Patterns

With the introduction of computer controlled technology employment patterns have changed considerably. Changes include the following:

  • Robots are now performing many of the manual tasks such as assembly work and paint spraying in factories.
  • Many industrial processes operate 24 hours a day and are continually being monitored and controlled by computers.
  • There are fewer paper-based systems in offices. Some jobs such as filing clerks no longer exist. New jobs involving computers have been created.
  • More and more people work form home, with the advantage of no travelling and the freedom of being able to live in any part of the country (or the world for that matter).
  • Computers are sometimes used to monitor the performance of their users. For instance, in supermarkets they can tell the management about the number of customers dealt with per hour or how many items are passed through the scanner in a day. Order entry clerks and airline booking clerks can have their work similarly monitored.

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Identity cards move a step closer

Driving licenses are now to be in credit card format and have a photograph of the driver on them. Eventually the government would like to add a microchip to these cards, thus making the card into a 'smart card'. Stored on the chip will be details of any endorsements for motoring offences, whether the driver was willing to donate organs and health details such as allergies. The card might also store National Insurance details, which would enable health details to be located. Many people are worried about this card, since they see it as an identity card under the disguise of a driving license. Some people argue that an identity card would help fight crime and Britain is the only European country not to have one.

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Environmentally friendly computers

Green computers (not the colour!) are computers that have been built considering the needs of the environment. For instance, they use less electricity than ordinary computers. One way that they do this is that they power down the monitor and disk drives if the computer has been inactive for a certain period of time. It is claimed that by the end of the century computers will account for 10% of the world's power supply. Laser printers, however, are not very environmentally friendly; they churn out a nasty gas called ozone (it's only useful in the upper layers of the atmosphere), they use a lot of power and in addition destroy forests with all the paper they use. If less paper were used it would help conserve the rain forests. This is one of the ideas behind the development of the paperless offices.

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Computer game addiction

Some children are addicted to computer games, sometimes playing them for more than 30 hours per week. Many experts are worried that this solitary activity is affecting the social and educational development of addicted children. Many computer games do not mimic reality and often involve simulated violence. Other people are worried that many children are becoming 'couch potatoes', and are not involved in any physical activity and do not interact very well with adults or people their own age.

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The shape of things to come

The merger of three technologies: the silicon chip, fibre optics and satellite communications has led to the concept of the information superhighway. This is a global network of computers capable of moving huge amounts of information via satellite and cable. The digital revolution is likely to change all our lives considerably. By pressing a key at any time of the day you will be able to get information in a suitable form on demand anywhere in the world. The information is not restricted to business: community information and learning data will be provided. At the moment your television set is restricted to a few channels (more if you are lucky enough to have satellite or cable). In the near future your television will be the gateway to fibre optic network. This will bring hundreds of channels, video on demand, home shopping, home banking and access to millions of data banks. Trips to the library to find out information for a GCSE project will be a thing of the past. You will be able to get to the information you want quickly and in the comfort of your own home.

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Environmental, ethical, moral and social issues raised by information technology

Environmental issues

  • Reduced energy consumption - Computers now control many of the heating systems in offices and factories so it is possible for only the rooms that are being used to be heated. This can save huge amounts of energy.
  • Reduced wastage in industrial processes - There are many process control systems used in our factories and because these are more accurate, there is less wastage, thus saving valuable resources.
  • Saving trees - The use of the electronic office and EDI has led to paper being almost eliminated in many offices and this means that fewer trees need to be felled. So not only are the trees saved but the energy that went into the making of the paper is also saved.
  • Reducing car pollution - Teleworking (working at home using information technology) means that some people no longer have to travel to the office to work. This reduces petrol consumption and car pollution.

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Ethical, moral and social issues

  • Software theft - It could be said that the use of personal computers has made many users into thieves. How many people could honestly say that they have purchased all the software on their hard disks? As you can see from the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1989, it is a criminal offence to copy or steal software.
  • Hacking - Hacking means gaining illegal access to someone else's computer system. Many people see this type of thing as a challenge and not as an illegal activity.
  • Privacy - Many people see the Data Protection Act as inadequate, since in 1984, when the act was made law, there weren't anything like the number of personal computers and communications networks that there are today. Some people are totally unaware of the act and think that it only applies to large companies or organisations.
  • Job losses - Is it right to develop new systems in the knowledge that staff will inevitably be made redundant? Should we put shareholders' dividends and profit before people? These are difficult questions and ones, which need to be addressed. Everyone has his or her own opinion on this.

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Social and ethical considerations for the Internet

The Internet provides access to a variety of information on every topic and this information comes from many different countries throughout the world.

One problem with the Internet is that all the information is freely available once the user is connected. There are news areas on the Internet, which contain large amounts of illegal pornographic material. Material that is illegal in some countries may be perfectly legal in others. Governments have the problem of finding a way of allowing users to gain access to the Internet but not to any illegal areas. If access to such material is restricted on one part of the Internet then a user can simply move to another area to find a way to access the material. There is a problem in restricting access. The Internet is a global system and it is difficult of make laws to control it by single countries. Another problem with restrictions is that it could lead governments to begin attempts to censor, legislate and regulate the Internet for political, cultural and religious reasons. Civil liberty groups are naturally concerned about this aspect of control.

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Social considerations for a cashless society

A future without any form of cash is unlikely but over the last ten years the use of cash for making payments has reduced considerably. We will now look at the advantages and disadvantage of a cashless society.


  • It is far more convenient not to have to use cash. Mortgage and loan repayments, gas, electricity and phone bills are paid automatically so you don't need to remember to pay them.
  • You no longer need to take large sums of money out of the building society or bank to pay for expensive items: the risk of being robbed is reduced.
  • You don't have to queue at the bank, building society or cash machine to get money out.
  • Credit cards allow people to buy goods and then decide whether to pay for them at the end of the month or obtain them on credit, paying a proportion each month.


  • Credit is normally given only to people who are working and have a steady source of income, so certain people won't be able to get it.
  • It is possible for people to spend more than they can really afford so they can easily get into debt.
  • More information is kept about individuals. Inevitably some of this will be incorrect and lead to people wrongly being refused cash or credit cards.
  • It is harder for people to keep track of how much they have spent, since statements are usually sent only once a month, although statements can usually be obtained more frequently if they are requested.

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Crime prevention and detection

Crime prevention

  • IT can be used to help prevent crime and the systems employed include the following.
  • Speed camera systems and camera systems, which detect cars jumping red lights, deter people from offending.
  • Computer controlled camera systems deter violent crime in many city centres.
  • Tagging of offenders means that they are less likely to commit crimes whilst on bail.
  • Tagging systems on bikes, cars and other property reduces the chances of them being stolen.
  • Computer controlled house security systems deter some burglars.

Crime detection

  • IT can be used to catch criminals and some of the ways it can do this are as follows:
  • The Police National Computer (PNC) is used to hold details of all crimes committed and criminals.
  • The National Criminal Intelligence System is a computer system used to piece together information about individual criminals and their illegal activities. The computer can interact with the data supplied by Interpol, the PNC, Customs and Excise, the Inland Revenue, and the bank and building society computers. This system is used to gather material on organised crimes such as drug smuggling.
  • DNA profiling and fingerprinting systems enables valuable, and often conclusive, evidence to be collected.
  • Police headquarters computers for each police force are used in the day-to-day administration of all the usual police work.

Problems with the Police National Computer (PNC)

  • There is a risk that illegal access to the PNC could allow people outside the police force to gain information.
  • There are worries that the running of the PNC will be passed over to a private company. The PNC contains criminal records, details of wanted or dangerous people, disqualified drivers, stolen cars and guns and also the records of 30 million motorists. Some files indicate that a person is HIV positive. In addition to all this there are details of 70,000 people of 'long-term interest' held. The concern is that a private company running the PNC would not be trusted as much as the police and people could be reluctant to pass information to the PNC.
  • Information on the PNC might be incorrect and this could stop someone getting a job or could even result in a person being wrongly arrested for a crime.

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BackUp Page last updated 30/03/2002 I.D.Lee, Didcot Girls' School
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