The Smart Machine

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This essay will review the impact of computers on our society from a sociological perspective. It will discuss how the use of computers has shaped three key aspects of society comprising work life, education and home life. Theorists outlined by Haralambus (2000) look at the impact of computers on society from two opposing perspectives, with various more moderate viewpoints in-between. These two theoretical extremes are that of technological determinism with social determinism at the other end of the spectrum.

The findings of research carried out by such theorists will be drawn from to illustrate and support the discussion. In conclusion a summary of some of the more common sociological influences and their impact is offered. For many people in our workforce today computers have had a profound effect, instigating many drastic changes in work patterns and routines. The employees of today have experienced an information revolution. A complete change in the way work is carried out has evolved and so too, the skills required to be a part of it. Change is often met with fear and resistance. Crompton (1999).

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Shoshana Zuboff (1998) an American sociologist, (advocating the technological determinist approach, in that she believes technology has shaped social life) illustrates this resistance to change in her study ‘In the age of the Smart Machine. ‘ Haralambus (2000). Employees from various places of work where new information technology systems were introduced. One employee said: With computerization I am further away from my job than I have ever been before. I used to listen to the sounds the boiler makes and know just how it was running. I could look at the furnace and tell by its color how it was burning….

I feel uncomfortable being away from these sights and smells. Now I only have numbers to go by. Zuboff (1988) as cited by Haralambos (2000 p701) In contrast, the advent of portable computers such as lap tops and palm tops, has given individuals more freedom to work where and when they like. Crompton (1999). One only needs to travel to London on the train to see the number of laptop users on the move. As Starling observes ‘the Internet is allowing many employees to telework from whatever location they choose. ‘ In discussing the influence of the Internet on work patterns and society as a whole Starling argues:

All these Internet effects on work will have a great influence on society. They generally point to a redistribution of work (and the money that comes with it) out of established centers, such as Western cities, and into more remote areas. Teleworkers can operate in deep countryside, beyond the range of commuters. International data centres can be placed in any country with a passable education system. The ‘net’ effect is probably a good one, redistributing wealth out of concentrated hotspots in cities of the west and into the world at large.

Starling (2000 p2) Starling gives a very positive view of the far reaching effects of computers and world globalization promoting marketing through cyberspace as a tool for opening up world market opportunities for even the poorest of countries. Gabey (2000) concurs and goes on to explain the explosive nature of ebussiness and its wide appeal. At the time of writing, every four seconds a further eleven organisations establish an Internet presence thereby linking the to the world’s most successful, broadly spread communications network – the World Wide Web.

BY 2003, worldwide more than 500 million people will be surfing the Web, from ‘Teeny Techies’ (aged 6-16) to ‘Silver Surfers’ (aged 50+). Gabey (2000 p9) Focusing on the ‘Teeny Techies’ age group Williams asserts the importance of computers in schools for the education system. The Government has been keen to ensure that all schools have adequate computer facilities and has targeted funding to programs, which increase access for school pupils to computers. UK Schools have increased provision by introducing breakfast and after school clubs allowing access to schools computer facilities.

Young people appear to embrace technology with ease and adapt eagerly to changes. IT (Information Technology) has brought new methods of learning to education, with multimedia learning, CD Roms with interactive assignments and the internet. For many children who do not respond well to the chalk and talk delivery methods, multimedia learning has opened up new opportunities. Computers can be used to help with certain learning difficulties and disabilities. Pupils with dyslexia can benefit in number of ways by using a computer to read and write, Williams (1999).


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