Introduction to Information Technology: Part 1


Welcome to today’s lecture. Today in the lecture
what I would like to go over are the number of different aspects of technology that are
important for understanding the interaction between technology and society in the context
of global disruption. So, one of the things you will see that Bill, Bonnie and myself
talk a lot about is we like to put some definitions out there. That’s really important because
people in this class are coming from all kinds of different disciplines and it’s pretty important
that we understand the language that we are using, and what is included and what is not
included, and the different concepts that we use because if we’re not speaking the same
language it is going to be hard to effectively solve some of these difficult problems and
to engage with some of these predicaments that we find ourselves in. So, let’s start
by just looking at the word technology. Global Disruption and Information Technology and
IT is the name of the class, and technology has some of the same roots as some of the
other words we’ve been looking at in this class. It is a Greek word and it’s made up
of two sort of smaller components, the first one being logia, or the study of, and the
second one, or the first part but the second part I am going to address is techno which
originally had the idea of art or craft or skill. So together technology has its roots,
the history of the development of the word as the study of art or craft or skill. Well,
that’s not entirely how we think of it today, and as you look at the ways in which it has
been used over time by about 1859 the word technology had taken on more of the framing
that we use when we use it in the sense that we specifically think of it as the study of
mechanical or industrial arts, and increasingly information art or data-driven technologies.
So, technology as a word has been changing over time, and about 1859 is when we started
seeing it used the way we use it today. Now, there are a lot of different ways in which
people try and describe technology that are less ways of defining the word for usage,
and more thought-provoking ways of using the term that helps us to think about what do
we mean when we say technology? So, let me give you a few of those. So, Alan Kay who
is a computing pioneer likes to call technology as “Anything that was invented after you were
born.” That’s interesting because it draws to the forefront the idea that people like
to engage with technology over the course of their lifetime in the sense that they see
it progressing and they understand a little bit about its trajectory. So, something that
is technology is something that you saw and you grew up with. A science fiction author,
Arthur C. Clarke, has more of a literary approach to it. He has a famous quite in which he says
“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” This idea draws out the idea
that technology is often just a source of wonder for us and we look to it to solve many
of our problems and hope that like magic it will just make it disappear. So, that sort
of comes from a literary background. A kind of a more humorous definition is something
that is called Kranzberg’s First Law of Technology. It is humorous, but it draws out some of the
idea that there are values that are embedded in technology. The law is as follows. “Technology
is neither good nor bad; nor is it neutral.” This idea tries to get us to think about the
fact that just because you have a technology doesn’t mean that it is necessarily going
to be used for something good, just like it’s not necessarily going to be used for something
bad, but at the same time different technologies certainly lend themselves to different kinds
of uses. Think about a gun as a technology. There are some sort of basic things that you
can do with a gun that lend itself to law enforcement and crime. It doesn’t really lend
itself very well to the same things that a plow might be used for or a satellite might
be used for. So, it’s not explicitly good nor bad, but it’s not completely neutral either.
When we talk about technology in this class we are really focusing on information technology.
We take a broad view of it though. So, obviously we have the hardware aspects of information
technology. For example, the computer chips that are in laptops and in phones today. We
also include the keyboards that we use to type on, the monitors that we use to view
things on, the displays that come in embedded devices, the wires that connect those devices.
That’s all hardware, the physical stuff that makes it information technology. There is
also a conceptual part of information technology which is the software. These are the apps
that you download onto your android phone. They are the programs that you run on your
MAC laptop. It’s the computer code which is written by people and becomes the instruction
for how this information technology is used when it’s a general purpose computing platform.
Now, the reason why we say that this class uses a broader approach to information technology
is because we also include some of the infrastructure that is needed in order to make information
technology work. So, that important infrastructure includes things like electricity. Most of
our computers cannot work unless they are at some point plugged into a wall. There is
the cloud now, the sense in which there is computing that is out there far away in data
centers. It’s not part of a phone that you are carrying or the laptop that you are typing
notes on, but it is increasingly critical to doing the things that we expect our computers
to do. For websites to run, for banks to operate, for us to be able to order something online.
We also think about the wireless spectrum, or the process by which we allocate different
frequencies in the atmosphere so that cell phones can communicate, WiFi can operate,
televisions can broadcast. These are all part of the infrastructure. We even go so far as
to say that people interacting with technology are part of the infrastructure of information
technology. Technologies are likely designed for people, and if they are not designed with
people in mind they are not going to be a very good information technology. So, the
Information Technology Association of America defines information technology very well and
the way that we would largely agree with, as the study, design, development, implementation,
support or management of computer-based information systems, particularly software applications
and computer hardware. To that in our class we will include infrastructure and people.
So, this picture here is an artist’s representation of technology. It looks a little bit like
The Matrix, or Minority Report, or Iron Man, or some kind of advanced user interface that
is out there, and we sometimes think about technology as if it is this thing that was
just handed down from the sky like a mountain, or like a river, and we forget that at the
end of the day all this complicated technology is made by people. It’s made by people who
were like you at one point. I think that Steve Jobs, one of the visionaries in Apple computers,
did a good job in describing it as follows. He says, “When you grow up you tend to get
told that the world is the way that it is and your life is just to live your life inside
the world. Try not to bash into the walls too much. Try to have a nice family, have
fun, save a little money. That’s a very limited life. Life can be much broader once you discover
one simple fact. Everything around you that you call life was made up by people that were
no smarter than you and that you can change it, and you can influence it, and you can
build your own things that other people can use.” Steve Job, you know, really lived out
this quote in a lot of ways, and we want to sort of impress upon you that you can also
use technology to change the world. That’s one of the things that you are going to get
out of this.

1 Comment

  1. pavitra jain

    October 18, 2017 at 5:08 pm

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