Saturday, March 23, 2013




Assessment Objective E of the GCSE National Criteria in Computer Studies states that a candidate should be able to:

'demonstrate some understanding of the social and economic effects of the use of computerized systems on individuals, organization and society'.

This is difficult to do because the situation is complicated. Even experts cannot agree on the social effects of computers. For instance we have a very high level of unemployment. Often firms which introduce computers lay workers off because they need fewer people to do the same work. On the other hand some firms which have not introduced computers cannot compete and they have to make people redundant as well. It is very difficult to say clearly what effect computers have on the unemployment situation .

To show an understanding of the effects of computers you need to:

1 Know the facts about each situation-you should be clear what the effects are and what features of computers give rise to them.

2 Be able to put forward arguments for both sides where there is a doubt about the benefits.

For this reason each section of this Unit contains facts, examples and arguments.

Changes in Business and Society


Computer developments during the past five decades can be summarized as follows: 1940s The first few working electronic computers.

1950s The first few computers for sale.

High-level computing languages developed.

1960s Fairly large numbers of mainframe computers sold.

Stock control, payroll and accounts are the most common applications. Most computing is done by batch processing. The first multi-access systems using typewriter terminals.

1970s The introduction of minicomputers and then microcomputers. Much more varied applications.

Dramatic increase in numbers of VOU terminals and of interactive computing.

1980s The spread of the use of computers into every part of life-shops, offices, schools, factories, our homes.

In the 1980s there has still been a large scale use of mainframe computers. However the huge growth in information technology has been due to the use of:

1 Microprocessors for control purposes.

2 Computers for word processing and other office applications.

3 Modern communications.

4 General-purpose microcomputers in homes, schools, business, etc.

Examples of uses of information technology

1 To monitor and control the operation of equipment, e.g.

(a) A 'robot' programmed to weld the joints on a car during manufacture.

(b) A fully automated greenhouse, in which the temperature and humidity are kept constant; a microprocessor controls the ventilators, the watering and the heating.

(c) Controlling the fuel Row in a car to lessen petrol consumption and lessen the pollutants in the exhaust fumes.

2 In offices an array of equipment is available which together is being referred to as the 'electronic office', e.g.

(a) Word processors.

(b) Work stations which can communicate with other work stations and can store information, eliminating a lot of the previous requirement for paperwork.

3 In the home, e.g.

(a) Many new models of automatic washing machine are microprocessor-controlled.

(b) In video game devices.

(c) In home computers.

(d) In devices for conununicating outside the home (e.g. with information systems such as Prestel).

4 In small business computers, e.g.

(a) In newsagents and other shops.

(b) In estate agents.

5 In schools. In the early 1970s computers were far too expensive for ordinary schools to buy them. The microcomputer has changed that completely. Now most primary schools have computers and many secondary schools have networks.


The increased reliance on communications

It has been possible to conduct business at a distance for some time. This has been due to improved transport, post, telephones and telex. Now however information can be transmitted far more quickly and cheaply in the form of computer data. Business can be run in a different way. Examples:

1 People are increasingly working from their homes; this improves the chances for employment of housewives, the disabled, etc.

2 Companies can set up offices which are distant from one another.

3 Industries can control operations automatically at a distance-e.g. water pumping stations, electricity grids.

4 Shopping chains can control their stock and accounts from a central computer .

5 Clients of banks and building societies can handle their money from cash dispensing terminals.

The decreased use of cash

People can be paid their wages and spend them without handling any actual money. It is becoming possible to use electronic funds transfer (EFT).

Electronic funds transfer is the moving of money from one bank account to another using data communications and without any paper transactions.

For example, in some shops the customers can submit their bank card to be inserted into a reader attached to the point-of-sale terminal. The card is checked by the customers' bank computer. The amount registered on the tiJl is then automatically transferred from the customers' bank account to the shop's bank account. This is known as electronic funds transfer at point of sale (EFI'POS).

It must be said that progress towards a 'cashless society' is slow. Many people prefer to handle cash. In fact many people do not have bank accounts.


The main arguments here are about:

1 How much effect the 'information revolution' will have on the lives of most people. 2 Whether the changes are of benefit to us.

The following are three completely different points of view which people hold:

1 That the integrated circuit manufacturers are having difficulty finding things for us to do with their products, and that their major impact on the average home is in computer games. The new technology will make life easier but it will not really change it significantly. Or:

2 That this new revolution is more important than the Industrial Revolution. It will:

(a) Give us more leisure time.

(b) Improve the quality of our lives.

(c) Completely change our job structure, creating interesting jobs in the 'information industry' as boring ones are lost from traditional manufacturing.

We must enter the new age with enthusiasm or the rest of the world will leave us behind. Or: a The changes taking place are harmful to society:

(a) The centralization of information by large companies and Government departments may help them, but it makes them inaccessible to us and takes away our privacy.

(b) The technology is being used to divide society-to improve the quality of life of the rich but not of the poor.

Which of these three is nearest the truth remains to be seen, and may still be argued about when the 'revolution' is over.