Computers, especially the internet are great achievements of man. They have proved to be a turning point in human history. By the end of the 20th century, mankind has crossed a technological threshold that revolutionized the way we work and communicate with each other. There are great advances in the field of Information Technology.
With powerful information tool linked on to the Net, we have a world of information ranging from stock reports, expert medical advice and weather forecasts to the choicest music and the latest blockbusters right at our fingertips.
While it is true that in the emerging digital world of the Third Millennium, Information Technology will be the currency that will beget power, it is equally true that how we harness it, will prove to be the difference between being the winner and being the vanquished, between having the competitive advantage and being left out in the cold.
Today we come across parents complaining about the long hours children are spending glued to their computer terminals, without any outdoor exercise. This is not only physically unhealthy, but also harmful both mentally and socially. Team spirit and the wonderful camaraderie between people is a noteworthy indication of how important contact between people really is. But today with the heavy advent of the internet we face the danger of losing these values, which the human race has always stood for. And if leading visionaries are to be believed, this problem will only be further exacerbated in years to come. With the three-way marriage of satellite systems, telephones and computer networks, and the advent of futuristic technologies like Bluetooth, the vision of electronic homes and buildings, will soon become reality. ‘Digital homes having walls with built in computer displays, when linked on to the information super highway would do away with books, libraries, fax machines and even old photo albums. These ‘Smart homes’ equipped with latest scientific technology will ostensibly make life easier for their inhabitants by doing away with the ‘mundane’ chores of everyday life. When in need of restocking, your Bluetooth refrigerator would automatically tell your phone to place an order at the supermarket, thus making shopping passes. Your Bluetooth video conferencing machine would summon the people you wish to contact at the touch of a button thus doing away with meetings and get-togethers. Comfortable in our private sanctuaries, we’d stand the very real danger of becoming isolated and reclusive.
Another important aspect of the future is the vision of how employees can stay at home and keep in touch with the office and business associates via e-mail, fax and teleconferencing. Commercially such an idea is quite viable. However, it is important for us to realize that man is a social animal, a gregarious being, who needs to be in one to one contact with the society and not remain cocooned in his own shell. Substantiating this fact is a recent study in Organizational Behaviour and Human Decision Process at the Stanford Business School that compared the success rates of business negotiations made face to face, to those made using e-mail.
It was discovered that on-line negotiations are more likely to break down when unaccompanied by a human voice and facial expressions. The study also discovered that hearing each other’s
voices, shaking hands and sharing a laugh or two, creates a sense of being on the same wavelength and contributes to creating a positive atmosphere which makes a substantial difference in the outcome of the negotiations. You cannot fax or e-mail a friendly hug or a welcoming handshake or a grateful smile. In no way can mere machines ever substitute these small gestures that make our life and all our hard work all the more worthwhile.
These small gestures do matter. They go a long way in making our lives pleasant and rewarding, both socially and mentally. And no substitute offered by Information Technology can be good enough. The Internet can never be a complete substitute for purposive human actions.
It is high time we understood this fact. The old adage that science is a good servant but a bad master has never been more relevant. We must realize that Information Technology like all other sciences, cannot be allowed to rule, it needs to be controlled. Technology should be designed and developed in accordance with the needs of the human race and not the other way round. People should not be forced to conform to the dictates of technology. We should make society mentally healthy which we owe to our progeny also.