The impact of ICT on the environment

The introduction of ICT promised many things including a paperless office and a global society. In this report I will be discussing whether these goals, and others, are achievable.

In the late 70’s IT promised people more free time due to the expansion of IT in society. It promised 20 hour weeks and the need for the leisure industry to expand due to the more hours available to working people. Now in the year 2002 looking at what was said this has not completely happened. Many people dream of 20 hour weeks but most are working more than they ever had before. The leisure industry has expanded though this seems to mostly be due to the need to relax more than people have got too much time on their hand.

Automation has taken over some of the jobs that used to be done by humans. Robots and machines can now be used in factories producing clothes and cars therefore decreasing the need for unskilled workers making it more and more difficult for people with no formal qualifications to find good paying employment. An increase has been seen in the amount of people studying ICT in their own time, on online courses or at night school. People now realise the need for ICT skills to succeed anywhere in society, there is one main benefit to this; individual levels of training and education are constantly increasing. One way to overcome this problem of unskilled workers is to start people learning ICT skills at an early age. Team working, problem solving and ICT skills are helping people to play a full role in society and exercise their rights and duties as citizens and are therefore are important to learn. If you grow up with theses skills being practiced around you it is more likely to become second nature.

There is no doubt that our society runs on paper and though you would think that the amount of paper should be reduced by the introduction of computers in some ways it increases it. Computers allow you to produce leaflets and letters easily therefore increasing the amount of junk mail we find coming through our letterbox this is one disadvantage to the IT industry on the environment. One advantage of using computers to reduce paper handling though is the techniques of word processing. You can now prepare documents in draft form and place them in computer storage. If the documents need to be changed, it can be retrieved, edited, and saved again or printed without retyping.

Though all the above is true people still like to have information on paper.

One example that I have come across in which information is still printed of, where you would think it had been abolished is UCAS electronic applications. 1000’s of applications are processed through UCAS and this prevents universities printing out 1000’s of 3 or 4 sided application forms, yet now applicants now print of the forms themselves in order to practice filling it in and then to check it when it has completed.

I think that the only way to overcome the problem over high paper usage is to limit the amount of paper that is used. Many people produce print outs that are unnecessary. If schools, colleges, universities and employers monitored the print outs that were being produced many of these could be prevented.

It doesn’t look like we’re ever going to have a paperless society, but one thing we can do, is make the most of the situation by setting up paper recycling schemes. I know that some cities now collect paper separately from your rubbish in your home, but this should be happening all over the county (even the world). If people got into the habit of using separate bins for rubbish and paper it could reduce the amount of trees that need to be cut and make our offices, which are full of paper, more environmentally friendly.

Computers have mostly helped in the business side of health and medicine in the past for record keeping but now technological advances can help in the diagnostics and healing processes. One function of computers is the ability to produce cross sectional views of the body. Doctors can now study the computer images before they advance with treatment. This helps amplify diagnosis accuracy (up to 85% more accurate) though doctors still have the final say on the final diagnosis.

Another use of computers in health and medicine is the fact that pharmacists can test patient’s medication for drugs compatibility. One example of how this is used is when you suffer from a cold. At the moment there is no cure for the common cold but thanks to the use of ICT, computers have been able to map, the structure of a human cold virus. Computers are also used to monitor patients. They can be used to monitor anything from weight loss to heart rates.

Scientists predict a revolution in medical care in the future. One day surgery could no longer be needed for everything it is required for now as they believe it could give way to manipulating DNA and restoring damaged cells. Doctors and biologists decipher levels of complexity never imagined before, thanks to the use of computers. In the future you could carry credit card sized imprints of your whole genetic code.

One ethical issue surrounding the use of ICT in health and medicine is the development of cloning. Computers have helped scientists in the cloning process by mapping the DNA. Some people see cloning as a huge technological advance that could help people that are seriously ill. If someone needs an organ transplant it will eventually become possible to use an organ that has been cloned. Some people see cloning as unethical and unnecessary and it has caused many debates in today’s society.

There isn’t really a way to overcome the disagreements surrounding cloning, all that can be done is for scientists to speak to and understand the protestors point of view and vica-versa. Maybe in the future there will be a way for them to come to a compromise but for the time being people need to be educated about both sides so that they can develop their own opinion.

One way that ICT is helping to improve the environment is teleworking. If people are working from home they are not going to need to travel to work using a car or public transport therefore reducing the amount of cars on the road and therefore reducing the amount of pollution released from car exhausts. Teleworking is eliminating trips between sites whether them sites are fixed, mobile or from client sites. Many people are now telecommuting. They are eliminating the commute trip at least some days per week by working at or nearer to home. There are also now many online services that mean that people don’t have to commute there is online finance services (home banking), online shopping, online entertainment services and also online learning.

A survey carried out by autoglass in 1996 projects a possible 38% reduction in car journeys per week by 2110 and also a 43% reduction in the number of work trips per person per week. That’s 328 million work trips per person in total in 1996 to 186 million in 2010.

Local agenda 21 has been developed for use in most parts of the country. It is on average organised by local authorities, it came from the 1992 Rio earth summit. The act promotes the phrase ‘think global, act local’. Though the act tends to be weak in relation to economic and development and employment issues it can make a difference and in some areas its been used to encourage working nearer to home and travel reduction, it works to encourage teleworking.

Teleworking has many advantages; people who live in remote locations all over the world can now work as long as they own a computer with an Internet. This benefits both employers and employees. Employees don’t need to move away or travel long distances to work and employers can access highly educated workers. It has also been found that teleworkers typically deliver productivity gains of between 15% and 40%. Also there are no office overheads so this means reduced costs to the employers.

A disadvantage that may be experienced by teleworkers is the break down of resources. If their computer breaks they have no means of working, they can not move to another computer in the office as they are at home and most people won’t have more that one computer. Until they can repair the problem or purchase a new computer they could loose money as they can’t continue to work, also their employer could loose out as work that needs doing would not be completed. One way to overcome this would be for all employers to make it a requirement that all employees have insurance on their computers, which covers them for breakage. Another disadvantage is the cost to the employees. They are most likely to have to purchase their own computer and software, which can become quite expensive, also the computer will need updating if they are doing it on a long term basis and it would be helpful to have a large memory and to be reasonably fast. Theses costs can be cut by shopping around, they will have access to the internet so that can be used to purchase resources, and if the company that they are working for want their employees to have the most recent hardware and software and also an internet connection they should provide them with extra money to help with the expenses.

ICT has helped raise awareness of issues that effect the environment; be these good or bad. Most organisations or societies now have there own website and email allowing easier communication between them and any supporters. Organisations such as greenpeace have their own website including information about any issues and also they can gather people for protests and campaigns by advertising them on the Internet. This can be seen as an advantage to the campaigners and supporters of greenpeace but a huge disadvantage to the companies and organisations that they are protesting against. Issues that organisations such as greenpeace protest about are usually hugely controversial and there are many point for and against them. When I visited the greenpeace website they were trying to raise awareness about the ship sailing through the Irish sea using plutonium. With out ICT communications this news may now have reached us yet.

The Internet also has many other uses, which affects people. Many of the functions of the Internet are extremely beneficial to people but some of them aren’t so good. Fraud and corruption are the main problems with the Internet. Hackers use the Internet to gain access to people’s bank account details. People ensuring that they only enter bank details onto a secure site, which shows the padlock symbol on the address toolbar, can prevent this. Also the people that set up the website should use encryption to prevent any unauthorised access to the details when they are being passed through the Internet.

Viruses can also be passed through the Internet; this is usually in the form of an attachment on an email. Viruses can do serious damage to computers; they can delete information or prevent software from functioning. In order to prevent viruses for being downloaded onto computers, people should only open attachments from people that they know and trust. Though if you do this viruses can still get through, so regular virus checks are necessary in order to find them and delete them from your computer.

Overall ICT has had a positive impact on the environment and the way live. New technology is always appearing helping to make our lives easier and safer. If I were to write this report again in 10 years time there would be many more technological advances to discuss and the chances are some of them would be even more controversial. ICT is something that we have to live with, we can’t get away from it, so the chance should be taken to make the most of the opportunity and enjoy being part of an ever-changing revolution.