Information and communications technology (ICT) has advanced over the years commensurate with the broader evolution of computerization and communications technologies overall. The development and establishment of satellite communications and navigation technologies that we take for granted today once represented revolutionary steps in the advancement of our ability to process information and communicate globally instantaneously. The ability of organizations to communicate between and within each other through video conferencing, electronic mailings (email), texting, and old-fashioned telephoning has made much easier than ever before our capacity to coordinate activities across broad swaths of space. It is fair to suggest that the merits have outweighed the demerits, but it is worth considering both in greater detail.
This question arises in the context of the most dramatic global shutdown in modern history. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has thrust the entire world into territories unexperienced for most people living today. Survivors of the 1918 Spanish influenza pandemic would obviously be extremely old if any still exist (the US Centers for Disease Control maintains a website that includes recorded interviews with survivors of that pandemic, which was last reviewed in 2018). The kind of widespread shutdown of most professional, economic, and social activities that we are experiencing right now is unprecedented for almost the entirety of the planet’s current population. Within this global context, a discussion of ICT merits and demerits, therefore, is especially constructive.
The merits of the ICT evolution are plain to see irrespective of the mass disruptions to our lives going on today. Information flows around the world instantaneously, facilitating far faster decision-making processes and far faster implementation of those decisions. It is quicker and less expensive, once the initial capital investment in equipment and infrastructure has been absorbed, to communicate vast quantities of information from one point to another. We have come a long way from reliance on foot messengers, horses, trains, and even wire communications to today’s ability to transmit and receive information, and process information in a timely manner. The consequences for users have been extraordinary. Greater productivity in numerous fields of endeavor from medicine to manufacturing to education has resulted.
Demerits have to be weighed against merits, of course, with the balance determining courses of action. And disadvantages do exist with respect to ICT developments. Vulnerabilities to activities by those who would do us harm have always existed, from stagecoach robbers to saboteurs destroying telegraph wires and rail networks. Today’s reliance on extremely advanced forms of communications and control (of electric power grids, for example) has amplified our vulnerability to disruptions caused through accident, natural disaster, or deliberate sabotage. Networks, for instance, have made communications and control systems far more efficient, but these same networks are very vulnerable to single-point failure caused by any kind of disruption—the reason our enemies in faraway locations work tirelessly to develop the capability to disrupt these fragile networks.
On a more personal level, reliance on today’s information and communications technologies is probably a net plus, but leaves us functioning in a colder, more impersonal environment. Cultural differences and the elimination of such subtle factors as body language and verbal cues can be eliminated, as is privacy, for the same reason as discussed in the above paragraph. How important these factors are is for the individual to decide, but they do represent possible demerits.