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It is a well known proverb that change is the only constant in this world. One of the most important catalysts of change in the history of mankind is technology. Rapid progress in technology has been at the forefront of driving sociological change. In the middle ages in Europe, technological progress came to a grinding halt and social change with it. But with the beginning of the industrial revolution in England, technological advancements resumed and so did sociological change. Thus the effect that technology has on society cannot be ignored.
Technology may have a favorable impact on society
Two of the technological advancements in the 20th century, driven by the blistering pace of progress in computer technology, were the development of information technology and automation. The reason that information technology is called as such is because it facilitates the availability of information by means of the internet. Today the role that the internet plays in the lives of everyone in the west is larger than life. Almost all daily transactions are conducted online through the internet. The internet has also given rise to the development of the e-commerce model. The e-commerce model became really popular with the tremendous success of Amazon.com. There are many benefits that the e-commerce business model enjoys over the traditional business model. For example, businesses which are selling their products and services online do not have to set up brick-and-mortar facilities. This means that these businesses selling their products and services online do not incur costs at the same level that their competitors doing things the traditional way incur. This allows companies like Amazon to lower their prices of the end products. Because the internet lowers the cost of doing business to such an extent, it makes those businesses which are doing their buying and selling online extremely price competitive. While this has a highly positive effect on the bottom line of the online companies, its impact on the society as a whole is nothing to complain about. Customers have no reason to complain about lower prices. It is common knowledge that the lion's share of the customers put considerations of price in front of all else. As a result, the e-commerce model is proving highly beneficial to both suppliers and consumers in the economy.
The fact that the internet has become one of the most profitable ways of doing business is made apparent by the statistics which reveal that companies are hiring software engineers more than ever. Recruitment of software engineering students is up by 20% this year (Quote sheet 1). In fact, taking business operations online is no longer a choice. It is a matter of survival. Migration online has become the consultants' favorite costs-cutting tool. As a result even businesses which do not sell their products and services online are taking some of their operations online. The advantages to be gained from taking business operations online are timely information availability and avoidance of redundant data entry. There are many businesses for example with large scale operations which are highly departmentalized. As a result, transfer of information from one department to another becomes an issue. Paper-based operations in a highly departmentalized company like this inevitably lead to the recording of the same information and delayed availability of that information to other departments. For example, in a large auto-manufacturing concern, the sales department might get a customer query for a particular model and make of a car. If all the operations in this company are strictly paper-based, then there is no way for the sales executive to answer the query immediately which is what the customer needs. This is because the information that the sales executive has on paper is not real time. Perhaps he received the update an hour ago since when the model in question may have been sold.
The scenario outlined above happens all too often in the real world. This scenario may be avoided if the operations of the company have been taken online so that relevant information is transferred to respective departments immediately. As a result our favorite sales executive can see immediately with the click of a mouse whether inventory has the model that the customer is looking for. These are line operations. Staff operations like HR are also being taken online so that as soon as a new employee joins the company, his details and employment status are captured in the employee information database. From the employee information database, the information is immediately made available for recording attendance, leave and payroll purposes. This saves the company a substantial amount of money as the management can afford not to hire additional manpower to make these recordings. Back to the HR example, the employee information database determines which employee is entitled to what type of leave and the system accordingly calculates the payroll information. This is an example of automation. Calculating payroll for example is a highly repetitive task, something that a computer system with the right kind of programming can be made very efficient at. It also saves costs substantially, freeing up organizational resources to be focused on line operations.
Taking operations online as indicated above also facilitates storage of information (Vago 34). When the system has been taken online, customer information is recorded at many touch points and they are instantly made available to those departments which need those information. This allows the company to record purchase patterns of different product categories. Such information centering around purchase patterns can be of immense value inasmuch as it spurs innovation which in turn benefits the society to a significant extent. Innovations are made keeping the society's needs in view. Therefore one of the most important tasks for the management of a company is to determine which products features the society tends to embrace and which it tends to reject. The only way for the management to make that determination is to collect information and the process of collecting information can be very resource intensive. However if the management had decided to implement a package like Enterprise Resource Planning earlier which since installation had been capturing the purchase patterns and the demographic details of its purchasing public, then that additional investment in collecting information is no longer required. All the management has to do now is research the data that is already available. Even in this respect, there are intelligent computer systems that can sift through the data and create charts and graphs depicting demand saving the management additional time and money. This benefits not just the management of that company, but also the society as a whole. On the one hand, it enables the management to develop and market products that the society is most eager to buy, helping the bottom line substantially to say the least. On the other hand, the society gets a better quality of products and services to its satisfaction.
There is a well known saying that all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. Advancements in technology have made sure that men and women do not have to work all the time so that they can live a little. Technological advancements have made intelligent automation at work more than feasible thus freeing up considerable time and money which might directly belong to the company but which in the ultimate analysis belong to the society. Automation speeds up business operations so that the management can go home early, take more vacations and spend more time with their families. The management also has more money to spend on holiday plans and not get stressed out. Clearly the quality of life is much more enhanced for no other reason than that technology has taken over.
Technological effect may not be all favorable
So far a lot of arguments have been made in favor of technology. However the situation is hardly that simple. Science fiction books and movies have pointed out time and again how too many advancements in technology can take over the world and make man its slave. This is of course science fiction material and so not to be treated too seriously. However the signs of technology driving man to his own destruction are already apparent. Weapons of mass destruction can wipe out the entire human race and all life on earth in a matter of seconds. However the destructive effects of technological advancements are much closer to home. As has been mentioned before, automating different work processes has become a brilliant method of cutting costs and enhancing profits. As a result businesses no longer need manpower as much as it used to in the past. In the last 20 years robotic industry has become multi billionaire industry and its growth rate is very high due to its many applications in manufacturing an automotive industry (Quote sheet 1). This shows plainly enough that while the development of robotic applications can be of immense value, such as lowering of investments in time and money, it also has a darker side in that robotic applications are replacing human beings. This is one of the biggest sources of unemployment problems. Therefore, while technology is making life easier and more fun at home for every Tom, Dick and Harry, it is also chipping away at their job security. In this way, rapid progress in technology can make a large chunk of the human resources of a country totally redundant. These people will no longer have jobs and will have to rely on the government for their living.
Even a cursory examination of the above reveals that technological advancements can throw the society into a terrible vicious circle from which there may be no escape. In the current world order, capitalism has proved to be the most efficient means of allocating resources. However capitalism values profit maximization above all else. Therefore companies are forced to do everything in their power to lower costs and one of the most effective tools at their disposal, as mentioned before, is the application of automation. However the application of automation also means that a lot of people will have to go unemployed. Robotic applications do not have to be paid costly salaries and wages and they do the job they were made to do just as efficiently if not more. Therefore, the management of a company would never think of hiring human resources if an alternative of robotic applications exists. Therefore a lot of human resources that the management previously considered invaluable to its operations are suddenly made redundant. The employees are suddenly faced with the possibility of no more pay checks in the future. Suddenly families which were enjoying life so much as a result of the facilities provided by technological progress find themselves simply not in a position to pay the bills. Of course young workers can train themselves to become software engineers and find new jobs. Unfortunately thеre is only a little bit of hoрe for adult learners to imрrove thеir technological skills with thе rising costs of education аnd thе lack of government рrograms available to thеm (Quote Sheet 1). And because they were made to let go without prior warning and therefore do not have savings, they do not have the money with which to pay the bills required anyway to enroll in training programs. So now it is up to the government to make massive payments in building and installing massive training facilities. This means that the whole point of capitalism is lost if as a result of capitalist practices, the government has to support millions of unemployed people. This turns into a vicious circle because more unemployed people, created by technology, mean reduced purchasing capacity of the economy as a whole so that the company automates more as a means of cutting costs. This only means the company has to let go of even more people and so it goes on and on.
An extended analysis of the above clearly reveals a trend whereby technological progress seems to widen the disparity between the rich and the poor. On the one hand, the management is getting richer and richer because automation is doing most of the work for them more efficiently and more cost effectively. On the other hand, the poor are getting poorer because they are finding their skills outmoded. Thе digital economy is comрelling emрloyers to give рreferential hiring treatment to those who have technology skills, аnd leave those with out to rely on our already strained social services (Quote sheet 1). Thе danger of thе information age is that while in thе short run it may be cheaрer to reрlace workers with technology, in thе long run it is рotentially self-destructive because thеre will not be enough рurchasing рower to grow thе economy (Quote sheet 1). Therefore the effects of technology on society are far from benign.
A lot of people are losing their jobs because of globalization and globalization is also the result of advancements in communications technology (Kenneth 24). Because it is no longer a problem for businesses located on opposite ends of the earth to be in constant touch, businesses in America are moving en masse to China. As a result, thousands of people in the manufacturing industry are losing their jobs. Technology, in this case, instead of enhancing the quality of life, is destroying it.
Technology and society are intertwined inexplicably. A lot of social progress that has been made in the last hundred years has been as a direct result of technological progress. There has also been a loss of good things in life such as job security which are attributable to technological advancement as well. So whether technology is good or bad for the society is difficult to say. However that technology has a deep impact on society is undeniable.
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