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Information Technology in Social Change

Abstract:

Jamminlian VualnamWith the advancement in technology especially in the field of Information sharing and communication. New technology has led to new forms of practices where new methods of service delivery are devised, and the processes through which it contributes towards bringing about social changes have also evolved. This paper elaborates the various changes in the perspective of Community organization and Social changes brought about by information technology.

Introduction:
As we step into a generation known as generation “Y”, in this computer era, practices and service delivery of information technology sector rises rapidly with information sharing becoming easier, faster and more efficient than the preceding decades. In this age of technology, service deliveries in our everyday lives as well as the process of impartation of education are affected greatly.

Social change is complex, multi-dimensional, difficult and even impossible to systematize. It should also be recognized that at this age of technology, the patterns of both education and service delivery changed drastically. For instance, introduction of various support groups such as the groups formed on-line on social networking sites by like-minded users which may be for different purposes. It’s the need of the hour to understand the role of these types of groups and realize the potential it has for better service delivery and more efficient functioning on the bigger picture.  Harnessing these powers for a cause such as bringing about change, solving problems, empowerment and enhancement of well-being is always the aim of the integration of Information Technology and Social change.

Background and evolution of information technology:
Information Technology is the acquisition; processing, storage and dissemination of vocal, pictorial, textual and numerical information by a microelectronics-based combination of computingand telecommunications as its main fields. (Dennis, L., & Michael, S, 2012).

Information technology is a branch of engineering dealing with the use of computers and telecommunications equipment to store, retrieve, transmit and manipulate data. The term is commonly used as a synonym for computers and computer networks, but it also encompasses other information distribution technologies such as television and telephones. Some of the modern and emerging fields of Information technology are next generation web technologies, bioinformatics, cloud computing, global information systems, large-scale knowledge bases, etc. (Wikipedia, 2012).

Information can be broadly classified according to their forms of existence such as written, oral, sensory as well as visual, time of occurrence: history, present and future. Frequency of occurrence: continuously, monthly, annually, weekly, daily or hourly.

The different modes of information transmission underwent extensive changes over time. In the olden days, communication and spreading of information were mainly done through various methods such as beating drums, lighting fire, orally, town crier or through diagrams and pictures. The Invention of printing press by Johannes Gutenberg in 1440 gives way to an opportunity for mass production of books, Telegraph in 1809 by Samuel Soemmering (Bellis, M. n.d.), Telephone by Alexander Graham Bell in 1876 (Farley, T. n.d.), Television in 1927 by Philio T. Farnsworth (The Great Idea Finder, 2006), Internet or World Wide Web (www) in the 1990s by Tim Berners-Lee (Rajan, M.S, 1978), further lead to the expansion in transmission, communication and dissemination of information and ideas.

Information technology includes various ways of communication ranging from SMS text messaging, TV shows, e-mails, Facebook, Skype and other Social networking sites and web-sites. It also includes various computing devices such as Smart phones, Laptop computers and Tablet PCs are a necessity for communication processes in this age of technology.

All these communication tools provided by the Internet is possible through the introduction of optical fibers in the 1950s revolutionized the use of technology not only in the field of communication but also in the field of health. Optical fibers provides wider bandwidth, low transmission loss, dielectric waveguide, signal security, small size and weight (Arumugam., M. 2001).

In the case of India, television broadcast was initially started as an educational experiment in Delhi under a grant from UNESCO (Singhal, A. & Rogers, E. M. 2010). Doordarshan (from Sanskrit “distant vision”) was the first programme launched by the Government of India way back in 1959.  Doordarshan reach grew from a mere figure of 26% of the population in 1982 to 80% in 1991 (Sikka, S.K. 2010).

However, one should keep in mind the unavailability of all these facilities even till today in some parts of the world where traditional means of communication are still used for the dissemination and transmission of information.

Use of Information Technology in Social Change:
In recent experiences, IT has been widely used by various activists. Information technology played an important role in the process of community organization for social changes and civil movements.

WikiLeaks, since its launch in 2006, shaped and brought about a great impact on the politics, public opinion and governance in various countries around the world. It helped spark the first “Arab Spring” uprising in Tunisia and elsewhere in Middle East and North Africa (Chaher., S & Spellman., J.D. 2012). The civil movements in Tunisia and Egypt during December 2010 and January 2011 are examples of usage of Social media by the public and it played a critical role in mobilization, empowerment, shaping opinions and influencing change. Social networking sites such as Facebook, YouTube and Twitter provides a base for discussion, dissemination of information, ideas and creates a space for community organization for a cause.

Tools such as such as Facebook, and Twitter, it has been suggested, helped citizens communicate and organize when governments were persistently unresponsive to their requests, and may have played a central role in the still unfolding events. According to a study conducted in 2011 by the Dubai School of Government shows that citizens in Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain, Lybia, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Palestine uses Facebook to share calls to protests with dates. 80% of Facebook usage in Egypt and Tunisia during the civil movement was either to raise awareness, share information or organize actions related to the movement and events. (Larsen, R., 2011).

The protests and uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia were mainly due to poverty, widespread unemployment, food prices, lack of political participation, corruption, denial of human rights, oppression, torture and so on (King, M. E., 2011). Facebook, YouTube and Twitter are the main social media which are used to accelerate social protests. In the case of Tunisia, over 30,000 videos were uploaded on YouTube, Facebook updates and pages are created in protest against the Prime Minister Mohamed Ghannouchi who takes up the position of interim president violating the Tunisian Constitution. Stories of state oppression, police brutality and unrest are put into light using Twitter and Facebook (Social Capital., 2011). The protest in Egypt which lasted 18 days where protesters used Twitpic, Facebook and YouTube to disseminate videos and photographs and called on Egyptians to protest ( Social Capital., 2011).

Facebook which was launched in 2004 which unite people with common interests and/or beliefs through groups and other pages have a great impact on the social functioning of people and also having a great role in shaping politics of several countries around the world. In the case of The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), an organization declared by Secretary of State of The United States of America on the 8th October 1997 as a “Foreign Terrorist” and the protests against the organization organized by Oscar Morales, a freelance web technology advisor, was done through Facebook where hundreds of thousands of Colombians participated in the protest against the kidnapping of hundreds of men, women and children over the last four decades. This Facebook campaign was a success and caught hold of citizens from across the world in more than 40 countries (Ingram., R. 2009). Apart from Facebook, Google Docs, E-mails, Skype and Instant Messaging platforms were used to keep the costs down. A public web page was also built to reach out beyond Facebook members.

Information technology has also changed the way how therapy services are provided. Project Masiluleke in South Africa is one example where Information technology has been utilized as a tool in the fight against HIV/AIDS and TB. This project was started to address the challenges of avoidance of HIV testing, delayed initiation of life saving treatment. (Rawlings, L., 2011). South Africa, a country with a population where HIV positive citizens forms more than 40% in some provinces, public communication campaigns are not very affective in the fight against this disease. Project Masiluleke incorporates and brings together leading mobile operator, mobile communication experts and public health leaders. The base of this successful project is the usage of mobile technology in the education of the people and providing testing as well as counselling services.

Ethical and value issues:
In the modern world we are aware that society is never static and that social, political, economic and cultural changes occur constantly. However, social change occurs through various causes and for various objectives. The use of technology in most cases comes into conflict with the ethical values or core values of society. The value of “Service” for instance, is not possible for every individual in this globalized world because of the highly electronic mediated service delivery.

This system of service delivery is not accessible as well as not feasible for the rural poor in developing countries.

The value of “Social justice” is just a myth. In the practice, Social injustice such as poverty and discrimination are areas where we pursue social change(s). This utilization of technologies instead of bringing about social justice, it further leads to creation of a bigger and far more distinctive societal gap between the “Rich and poor”.

The launch of Wikileaks.org in the year 2006 further boosted the role of IT in bringing about social change by publishing secret, private and classified materials and documents, media (Wikipedia, 2012). This raises a question towards the social work value of “Integrity” and “Confidentiality”. The rapid rise in professional “Ethical Hackers” challenges the integrity of social work practice, the ethic of confidentiality is at stake. Also, the interlinking of all web sites, options of sharing files (for example, several photos or documents can be “Shared” on Facebook, twitter” etc) and its unpredictability, the consent and permission of a client in regard to the confidentiality of information sharing is always an ethical question towards the use of social media and the internet which may not be the permission given by the client (Lewis, M. 2010).

The usage of Information technology differs from country to country. This can be seen from the results shown by the Networked Readiness Index which measures the propensity for countries to exploit the opportunities given by Information and Communication technologies published annually by World Economic Forum (Wikipedia., 2012). India ranks 69th out of 142 countries in the Net Worked Readiness Index, 2012 (World Economic Forum., 2012). The application of IT for social change and its success would thus depend on the penetration and usage of IT by the targeted population. Will this rise of technology in various countries have similar implications in the service and practice of social work in India?

Conclusion:

All the above mentioned changes in the “Society” were possible because of the proper utilization and harnessing of the available resources. It is also in the case of us, with the total number of internet users on the rise, information sharing became fast and easy. However, it is also our duty, as users, to adhere from false information and derogatory remarks and discussions which can hamper the peace and lifestyle of us.

It is not that we are not in a position to utilize these unlimited possibilities, in fact, it is high time that we take on this opportunity which we have never had before and make the most out of it rather than for abusing and causing hatred and separation among us.

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