Since 1980s the kind of changes that have come about in the social, economic and other realms due to the introduction of information and communication technology (ICT) has been revolutionary. It has not only brought in tremendous changes in the way communication and information has been made to be available to the individuals at the press of mobile and computer. It has also changed the way information pertaining to learning has been drastically altered in such a way that education and training has now become a virtual reality. The physical distances have been shrunken through the use of mobile technology. Digital technology has opened opportunities to people to improve their abilities and knowledge, thereby offering them opportunity to improve their chances of social mobility.
We need to understand that information and communication are processes or activities integral to society. Every person must have the means and access to information and should be able to exercise the right to freedom of opinion and expression, which includes the right to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any form of media, regardless of frontiers.
Information and communication technologies (ICTs) consist of technologies and tools that people use to share, distribute and gather information, and communicate with one another using computers / mobile phones and interconnected computer networks.
Chris Nicol (2003) in his book ‘ICT Policy: A Beginner’s Handbook’ groups these new ICTs into three categories:
• Information technology uses computers, which have become indispensable to modern societies to process data and save time and effort;
• Telecommunications technologies include telephones (with fax) and radio broadcasting and television, often through satellites; and
• Networking technologies, the best known of which is the internet, but which has extended to mobile phone technology, voice over IP telephony (VOIP), satellite communications, and other forms of communication.
The term ICTs has been used to encompass technological innovation and convergence in information and communication transforming our world into information or knowledge societies. The rapid development of these technologies has blurred the boundaries between information, communication and various types of media. The accelerating convergence between telecommunications, broadcasting multimedia and ICTs is the driving force that increasingly changes many aspects of our lives, including knowledge dissemination, social interaction, economic and business practices, political engagement, media, education, health, leisure and entertainment [Ramilo and Villanueva, 2001].
The last few decades saw the power of these technologies as instruments for advancing economic and social development that create new types of economic activity and employment opportunities; improve health-care delivery; and enhance networking, participation, and advocacy. ICTs also revealed the potential to improve interaction between governments and citizens, as a result, fostering transparency and accountability in governance. Commercial and community media have taken advantage of technological convergence by using the internet for radio and television webcasting.
ICTs are an undeniably important part of our social milieu today. They also enter our social change imagery. If indeed ICTs represent a technology watershed that vastly improves our lives, and have a largely positive influence at a social-structural level as well, the mandate of social change actors should be relatively straight-forward.
To appreciate the empowerment potential of ICTs, it is important to understand some of their basic features, which make them a unique kind of technologies. ICTs are general purpose technologies (GPTs), like steam engine and electricity. This means that they have a generic use across an immense array of sectors and activities. With gradual society-wide adoption, GPTs tend to disrupt existing social systems and reconstruct new ones in their place. It is instructive to note that the steam engine and electricity gave rise to the modern factory system that made possible the industrial revolution, which in turn resulted in dramatic shifts in social organization in almost all areas, from the family to the nation state.
Generic technologies of production, like agriculture implements, and steam engine/electricity, are often considered as the most significant ones in triggering paradigmatic social change. Shifts from a pastoral to a settled agrarian society, and then to an industrial society, were caused in this manner. Many sociologists/anthropologists consider technologies of information and communication – e.g., language, writing, press and broadcasting, as having a similar paradigmatic significance. What is perhaps unique about new ICTs is that they are both generic technologies of production and of information and communication. This is expected to make their social impact rather widespread and deep.
In a way, ICT has opened new vistas to people who could use the opportunities created by it to improve their status and also empowers them in many ways. It has added to their social capital by way of networking and use of social media. Following the impact of ICT, governments have brought in policy changes to benefit the lower caste classes and made governance more transparent, thereby empowering them. ICT has changed the way education can be reached to a large section of people who hither to could not access higher education. It has empowered the weaker sections, including women. Mobile technology has ushered in new modes of imparting learning. It has made learning more interesting and larger amount of information is made available to everyone without any discrimination.
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