Information Technology


In nearly every corner of the world, from Mumbai to Madrid, one cannot enter a café or walk down the street without seeing someone talking, texting, or surfing the Internet on their cell phones, laptops or tablet PCs. Information Technology (IT) has become ubiquitous and is changing every aspect of how people live their lives.

Recent advances in our ability to communicate and process information in digital form— a series of developments sometimes described as an “IT revolution”—are reshaping the economies and societies of many countries around the world.

Information Technology

Information Technology (IT) is a driving factor in the process of globalization. Improvements in the early 1990s in computer hardware, software, and telecommunications greatly increased people’s ability to access information and economic potential. These advances have facilitated efficiency gains in all sectors of the economy. IT drives the innovative use of resources to promore new products and ideas, across nations and cultures, regardless of geographic location. Creating efficient and effective channels to exchange information, IT has been the catalyst for global integration.

Products based upon, or enhanced by, information technology are used in nearly every aspect of life in contemporary industrial societies. The spread of IT and its applications has been extraordinarily rapid. Just 30 years ago, for example, the use of desktop personal computers was still limited to a fairly small number of technologically advanced people. The overwhelming majority of people still produced documents with typewriters, which permitted no manipulation of text and offered no storage.

Twenty years ago, large and bulky mobile telephones were carried only by a small number of users in just a few U.S. cities. Today, more than half of all Americans use a mobile phone, and in some developing countries, mobile phones are used by more people than the fixed line telephone network. According to the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association, 302.9 million Americans were subscribers to cell phone plan in 2010,1  and in some developing countries, mobile phones are used by more people than the fixed line telephone network.

But perhaps most dramatically, just fifteen years ago, only scientists were using (or had even heard about) the Internet, the World Wide Web was not up and running, and the browsers that help users navigate the Web had not even been invented yet. Today, of course, the Internet and the Web have transformed commerce, creating entirely new ways for retailers and their customers to make transactions, for businesses to manage the flow of production inputs and market products, and for job seekers and job recruiters to find one another.

The news industry has also been dramatically transformed by the emergence of numerous Internet-enabled news-gathering and dissemination outlets. Websites, blogs, instant messaging systems, e-mail, social networking sites and other Internet-based communication systems have made it much easier for people with common interests to to connect, exchange information, and collaborate with each other. Education at all levels is continually transforming thanks to innovations in communication, education, and presentation software.  Websites now serve as a primary source of information and analysis for the masses.

Advances in Information Technology

The IT revolution has been driven by the extraordinarily rapid decline in the cost and rapid increase in the processing power of digital technologies. The digital device whose technological advance has perhaps been most crucial to the IT revolution is the microprocessor, the collections of millions of tiny circuits that serve as the “brains” of personal computers and that are embedded in an ever-expanding number of products, from video games, to cars, to refrigerators. Over the past two decades, the processing power of microprocessors has doubled roughly every six months.

Rapid advancements in fiber optic technologies have also been critical to the IT revolution. Fiber optics technology enables data, including voices captured in digital form, to be converted into tiny pulses of light and then transmitted at high speeds through glass fibers wrapped into large capacity telecommunication cables. Hundreds of thousands of miles of these cables were installed over the past ten years, boosting the speed and capacity of telecommunications networks.

Advances in microprocessors, fiber optics, and a number of other complementary technologies, such as telecommunications switching devices and memory chips, have dramatically increased the speed, processing capacity, and storage space of computers and telecommunications networks themselves.

Click here to read more about advances in information technology: The Internet and Cellular Entertainment Revolution and the Writer’s Strike.

Driving Down the Cost of Information Transactions

A key reason why these advances in IT have spread so quickly is that they have progressively reduced the unit cost of computing power or the transmission of a message. For less than $400, Americans without any advanced technical training can purchase and use a desktop computer whose data processing power far exceeds the room-sized computers that powered the spacecraft that carried astronauts to the moon and back in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Companies such as Microsoft have even sold $100 computers to consumers in emerging countries as a way of helping developing countries use more advanced technological resources

Source: World Development Indicators Database

The decline in computing prices is a factor in spurning the growth of computers in the developing world (see Figure 1). Countries such as Zimbabwe, India, Brazil, and China  experienced tremendous growth in the number of personal computers. From 2000 to 2005, the growth rate of personal computers per capita exceeded 200 percent for most of these nations, with developing countries like Zimbabwe increasing almost 600 percent. By the end of 2008, there were reportedly more than one billion PCs in use, and by 2015, two billion are expected to be in use.2 

The spread of digital technologies has also been spurred by several unique attributes of information, which serves as the principal input and product of many IT industries. In contrast to more tangible products, like consumer goods, one person’s “consumption” of a piece of information does not necessarily reduce or eliminate the possibility that another person might benefit from the same piece of information.

Furthermore, networks built upon the exchange of information, like the Internet, tend to become more valuable to existing participants as new participants link up with them. Finally, the cost of using digital technologies, such as Internet service providers, decreases as the number of users increases. All of these factors have worked together to promote rapid growth in the demand for, and supply of, IT products and services.

During the second half of the 1990s, as more people bought computers and went online, the average cost of the equipment and services necessary to access the Internet declined. Today, individuals go beyond the conventional desktop computer to stay connected: Wi-Fi networks, laptops, smartphones, tablet PCs, and even phones utilize Wi-Fi networks to make the Internet an integral—and necessary—part of everyday life.


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