Science and technology has remained one of the forerunners amongst various other fields in terms of advancement. The sole reason why humans are running this planet is because of the vast superiority in terms of intellect as compared to other species of earth.
Over the centuries, a lot of knowledge and information has been gathered by us and has been utilised to develop our understanding of this world as well as improve our lives. This information needs to be stored and exchanged across various platforms to ensure its proper utilisation in growth of a nation as well as the global economy. This is where information technology comes into play.
Information Technology, often abbreviated to ‘IT’, is a field that deals with the use of computers to store, transmit, convert, protect, retrieve as well as process information, otherwise known as ‘data’, in computer language. Jim Domsic of Michigan was the first one to coin this phrase in an attempt to modernise the out-dated and overly used term- ‘data processing’ in November 1981.
IT is a direct subset of a broader field of technology known as information and communication technology (ICT). With the evolution of science and technology and the heavy dependence of human activities including administration, business, management, healthcare, education, etc. the IT industry has emerged as a crucial aspect to ensure continuous operation of these fields. It basically utilises computer applications and software programs to work with information fed into the database.
Due to the extensive application of IT in the various fields, it has become one of the most demanded industries for employment as well as R&D. This also makes IT a vast subject with various dimensions and aspects to cover. Therefore, keeping the importance of this field in mind, let us explore this subject in more detail.
History of Information Technology
Although the phrase was coined late 20th century, the concept of information technology had existed for about 5000 years now. For convenience of understanding, the history of IT has been divided into five distinct ages as mentioned below-
Pre-Mechanical Age: This age lasts from 3000 BC to 1450 AD when humans had first started to communicate.
They used pictorial representations in the form of drawings, paintings and carvings- all of which can be categorised under the umbrella term petroglyphs. Petroglyphs were used by the ancient human to tell their story, map their terrain and keep a tab on their livestock as well as people in the community.
With the invention of writing system, number system and languages alongside better media like rags, papyrus and eventually- paper, managing information became more and more simple and effective. The abacus was the world’s first calculator invented in this age, based on the number system.
Mechanical Age: During the period of 1450 to 1840 AD, connections can be established between the current technology and its ancestors. There was a surge in interest of computation and information among the people which led to big technological advancements.
The slide ruler was invented during this period as well as the famous Pascaline, a capable mechanical computer capable of performing the fundamental mathematical operations on any two numbers. Such was the importance of this invention that in 1649, King Louis XIV of France granted it a royal privilege.
Electromechanical Age: This age ushered the modern ages of science and technology. It can be roughly designated the time between-1840 to 1940. Modern telecommunication, information, engineering, computation and scientific temperaments were shaped throughout this age.
Urgent requirement in developing military and educational institutions around the globe also proved to play a crucial role in thrusting information technology further up the ladder of evolution. In 1944, the first ever large scale automatic digital computer was created in the form of Harvard Mark I by IBM.
It took up almost all the space in the room in which it was housed and was as heavy as 5 tons. It was operated using punch cards and was utilised to simulate the feasibility of implosion of an atomic bomb during the Manhattan Project.
Electronic Age: The invention of digital circuits, switches, transistors, capacitors and various other electronic gadgets and components heralded the electronic age. Electromechanical relays were replaced gradually with electronic switches to function as vacuum tubes due to the latter’s ability to ‘open’ and ‘close’ a thousand times faster than relays.
The first general purpose purely electronic computer was thus introduced in 1946, in the form of Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer or ENIAC. It was capable of solving large class of numerical problems through programming.
Age of Information (and the internet): The age in which Information Technology was coined and experienced a surge in application and utilisation. A shift was observed from the traditional industry of R&D to the economic sectors. The age of Information also brought along with it the digital revolution and the introduction of internet- which changed the billions of lives around the world.
Synonymous with modern IT, the internet (though conceived in 1969) gained much more attention when British scientist Tim Berners-Lee invented the ‘World Wide Web’ in 1989. It was meant to be a fail-proof network which connected computers and be resistant to a single point of failure due to its decentralised nature.
In the initial stages the advent of IT was limited to storage and transfer of computer files and e-mails, along with developing and applying software programs, but today it has become a vast subject of specialisation which finds application in almost every aspect of human life.
Components of Information Technology
IT is an intricate body which consists of many organs that require functioning in synchrony to be able to process and generate information. To identify these organs, they are broadly divided into the following components of IT-
Computer Technology: Comparing to the last decade, computer technology has seen a rapid growth and is already in the fifth generation of evolution. Computers are highly useful in the growth of IT sector. They carry out vast number of operations at very high speeds and are utilised to store data in their system drives.
Communication and Telecommunication Technology: From Morse signals to 5G cellular network, communication technology have seen a growth spurt ever since the dawn of 20th century. The advanced technologies such as the laser, fibre optics, telephone, television, dictaphone, silicon chip, Internet and many other telecommunication devices have greatly improved the written, visual and oral media networks. Same is the case with transmission of information over long distances without loss or interference (telecommunication).
Optical Communication Systems: Light is utilised as the carrier of information across mirrored wires for propagation of the information. Although it virtually is a part of telecommunication, optics in the field of communication technology has been growing very quickly with modern innovations, which gives this component of IT, its own niche. Optical communication is a revolutionary design as it has enabled transfer of information at rapid speeds across long distances.
Satellite Communication Systems: One of the most effective modes of transport of information over continental distances, satellite communication has been rampantly used by many businesses to propagate their products across the globe.
Applications of Information Technology
Computers have become an integral part of holistic development and growth of every organisation. Since it has become increasingly inexpensive, it has been able to find its applications in various different works.
Science, Engineering, Research and Development: Almost all scientific progress in the modern era utilises computers in some form or other. This field is entirely dependent on computers and micro-processors. Work specific computer programs and software have been developed to cater to the needs of various branches of sciences.
Be it supercomputers employed to predict the weather in the meteorological department or identifying the structure of proteins in biological researches, use of IT has spread to all the various fields of sciences. Not only this, but computer aided designs and manufacturing (CAD, CAM) programs have helped improve the efficiency of products and services in both private and public sectors. Best examples will be the engineers who utilise these programs to build power plants and space stations.
Trade and Commerce: IT had been a prima boon to modern business firms and corporations. It is near impossible to imagine the companies working without a computer system these days. The major application that IT department finds in this sector is in storage and management of business and financial records as well as employee and customer databases.
Education: Education is the basis of empowerment of the society and is a deciding factor in uplifting the underprivileged. Digitization of information and its availability on the internet has made it accessible to a wider population across the world. Computer literacy has made more jobs available for the people. IT has made it possible to educate individuals in schools as well as out-of-school institutions to overcome the predominant lack of education problems in our nation.
Governance: One of the youngest applications of IT is e-governance. Computerization of governmental activities has enabled the governments to ensure effective governance over their territories and has also catered to the needs of the citizens by making the government portals readily available for them to file complaints and give feedbacks on the on-going schemes and policies.
Medicine: Medical engineering and technology has become a separate field of studies which focuses on the various mechanical and computerised systems used in medical diagnosis and therapy. Some of the best examples include MRI, CT scan, life support equipment and similar devices. They can pick up the slightest aberrations in bodily functions and ensure lives are saved or are improved with timely treatment.
Entertainment: Entertainment acts as refreshment for people from their work life. IT has vastly developed this industry. With superior camera and sound capturing devices as well as software to edit and incorporate video and sound effects, cinematography and music industry has definitely benefited from IT.
Furthermore, the trendy video games amongst the youth have also developed with games these days evolving into augmented and virtual reality (AR, VR). New income sources have been created in the form of live content streaming, social media promotion and influencing among the modern internet employments. Entertainment industry has been one of the biggest winners incorporating the IT sector in it.
Merits and Demerits of Information Technology
Just like every coin has two sides, IT industry is not all shiny and silvery. There are both advantages as well as disadvantages of the IT industry. Among the various merits as discussed above, the important advantages that we have observed can be summarised as follows-
Increase in production and decrease in time utilised. This invariably increases the productivity of an institution and hence helps in its overall growth. It also makes database management less cumbersome and more organised by digitizing information and storing them according to the instructions of the programs. This makes information available at the click of a button- hassle free and quick. This improves the financial management of businesses and reduces the use of paperwork and loss of information due to misplacing or other trivial human errors.
IT also provides advanced communication in the form of e-mails, video conferences, texting and other media. This helps people around the world to connect with each other. It also reduces other costs and saves time by cutting off the requirements of travel, booking special halls for conference and postal delays, thus empowering the institution’s economy and boosts its financial and administrative operations and speed of decision.
Most importantly, it connects the people around the world on multiple dimensions and makes information available at the fingertips of the people, eliminating delay and effort. But at the same time, there do exists a few demerits of information technology-
It is not as inexpensive during implementation as it is in operations. It requires a good amount of investment to set-up an IT system or incorporates IT into a pre-existing organisation. It requires thorough research and extensive trials to establish a well-functioning IT department in a company or any institution.
While implementing machines eliminates human error, in the process, it also eliminates human jobs. Trained technicians and workers lose their bread when they are replaced by robots and computers. Automation has resulted in loss of employment and has left many educated individuals jobless.
Finally, digital privacy and security has come up to be a major issue in the field of IT. Hackers and cyber-criminals are two new factions of anti-social elements who have developed in the computer technology sector. Information is vulnerable to security breaches and hacking attacks which can be used to steal, threaten and blackmail organisations, causing great social and economic loss to the institution. Hence, there exist IT laws which make sure such crimes are being condemned and the conspirators are punished accordingly.
Although Information Technology has come so far into advancement, it is still in the process of development as new and new ideas and inventions are brought to life by the scientists, engineers and entrepreneurs, globally. The world has come closer, digitally through the contribution of IT sector.
It was able to bridge the gap between cultures, countries, companies and clients as well as helped the governments in efficient governance. But since it is still in its stages of development, it is important to understand that it still has its flaws which the professionals in the IT sector are working to improve day and night.
There are many issues that IT faces including cyber-security at the top of the list hence the first focus of the IT firms should be to improve upon that. IT is a field of technology which invariably supports and develops other industries while simultaneously growing in size itself; hence it is an important field with hundreds of career choices in this sector.