ICT in social change: starting from a personal point of view

By Athanasia K.

In our days ICT technology advances with rhythms that are difficult to follow even for the high-tech passionates and professionals.

As I was reading the materials for the course’s assignments, this sentence caught my attention: no technology, including Big Data, is inherently good or bad for development, which was said by Kranzberg in 1986, as cited by Hilbert.

This reminded me one of my old high-school teachers and one of his favourite sayings, which was kind of a “trademark” for his science classes. He used to say to us that “technology is like a knife, you can cut bread with it and feed your family, or you can stub and kill someone with it. Whether it will be used for good or for evil, it’s all in the hand who holds it”.

This was at a time when mobile phones were just starting to enter in our everyday lives. When Google was an new, unknown spin-off company with 3-4 employees working in a garage somewhere on the other side of the Atlantic. When “social media” did not exist, when “twitter” only meant the sound of birds and “facebook” was still a nice memory of our high-school graduation year (even for Mark Zuckenberg who was only an elementary school boy at that time). In other words, when the “virtual” was far less than the “actual” in our lives.

Fast forwarding to the present, one cannot but observe the key role of ICT ended up playing in our lives, both as individuals and as society in ways that would have seem unimaginable less than two decades ago. How many of us do we really remember how science-fiction sounded when one was saying that “one day we will use our phones to send pictures” or to even “see each other when speaking”? Or how our life was without Google or Wikipedia always ready to answer any of our questions? Or how we could live our lives without internet or mobile phones at all? At least I had to force myself to remember how life was back then in my high school years when I now read old articles from that time, like this one from BBC.

But what sounded completely as a science fiction in my ears at the beginning of our century, is in less than a decade a reality. A reality which many of us in the developed world take almost for granted, as it has always been like this, or is for most people in this world. Which could be the case, since nowadays the use of high-tech ICT tools and devices is not only omnipresent in small or big aspects of our life, but also almost a necessity. And either consciously, or completely ignorant, we are all creating this necessity in our daily lives via our behaviour and choices we make.

From a high-school girl twitting about a music concert and adding “friends” on her facebook page, to the break-out of the “Arab spring” and the “occupy” -like movements, the use of social networks is increasingly influencing the way we think, behave and relate to others. From a stressed father who tries to find his way to their family’s vacation hotel in an unknown city, to a refugee who tries to avoid conflict zones on his journey to safer place, the use of geolocation systems are more and more a necessity for organising and living our lives.

These technological advances and the full use of what ICT has to offer come as natural for some. However, for others these are still a science-fiction dream to catch since the gap between technologically developed and less developed societies is still far from closed. In either case, the applications of high-tech ICT developments come with many opportunities as well as challenges for ourselves as individuals and for the societies we live in.

These impacts, opportunities and challenges of new ICT developments in our lives is what I will try to discuss in my forthcoming series of posts in this blog, focusing on what is called “Big Data“.

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