Professor Dr. Rolf Pfeiffer of the University of Roetlingen, Germany is a contributor writer to The Business Thinker. He is the Director, Export-Akademie Baden-Württemberg and Vice President of the INTEGRATA Foundation.
This article was contributed to the Conference of the INTEGRATA Foundation on Humane Uses of Information Technology on 14th October 2010 in Karlsruhe, Germany
(this is a translation from the original German).
The quality of life and Information & Communications Technology (ICT) can be more usefully interlinked if researchers and experts in future think more about the possible opportunities and pay closer attention to the interconnections that already exist. This is demonstrated by the extracts from the Handelsblatt quoted here which have almost every day reported new moves in the quality of life in relation to ICT.
The more closely we look at the question of the quality of life and ICT, the more fascinating the subject becomes. Everyday experience shows many instances of the influence of ICT on the quality of life. Innovative people find the introduction of ICT into new areas of life very positive, even if it later proves to be socially unfavourable. This demonstrates how difficult it is to deal with the humane use of ICT every day in order to maintain our quality of life.
This does not mean daily opposition to ICT, just that it is necessary to keep an alert watch on developments and to make free and independent decisions about our own lives. Another example: I can write this manuscript by hand, and then have it typed with a good old-fashioned typewriter. But this would cause major problems for the editor and publisher. If I write the script on a PC with internet connection, this means extra typing work for me, but the text can then easily be sent and edited. But if I forget to make regular back-up copies and somewhere down the line the IT fails, then I have a problem. There are many experts these days who can solve these problems. But there are also enough people who see the overall situation as a deterioration in the quality of life.
What conclusions can we draw from all the examples we have examined?
- Each individual person has aims and values according to which they can judge the influence of ICT on their quality of life.
- Institutions (including companies) have aims and values according to which they can judge the influence of ICT applications on the wellbeing of their employees.
- Society and politicians strive towards a quality of life compatible with their aims and values and use ICT in an appropriate and humane manner.
Integrata’s aim must be to maintain awareness of these developments (e.g. in the context of HumaniThesia and the Heilmann Prize) and not to lose sight of the risks involved in ICT applications.
HumaniThesia will provide the basis on which these aims can be achieved.
Somebody I know recently told be very proudly that he had neither a PC nor an internet connection, nor even a television. This, he said, meant he enjoyed a much higher quality of life. He was not impressed by being told that, in spite of his best efforts, he was involved in IT systems in the form of traffic control systems, accounting systems, transport ticket machines, and many other aspects of modern life. On the subject of bus or rail tickets he protested stolidly that if he could not buy them at a counter, then he would go by his own car.
Our 26-year old son expressed the opposite opinion. For him, international communication and dealing with personnel matters via computer at work is normal and seen in a positive light. He also takes advantage of all the opportunities offered by IT in his private life. He added, however, that he felt he was not quite able to keep up to date with the continuous very rapid developments in the field. On which point I, of course, do not agree with him. Because he views the whole picture with great interest, he highlights certain aspects for me. He first mentioned Facebook, which enables him to be in daily contact with 450 friends around the world. This he regards as a great advance in IT as contacts of this kind are a very positive contribution to understanding between the peoples of the world. If we add to this Youtube and other platforms, such as XING AND LinkedIn, we find further huge facilities for personal communications. Our son thinks that this revolutionary development has come about because people can now make contact using their mobile phones, rather than the computer; made possible of course by the iPhone and similar devices. Many people thus are able to share their private lives with friends, often in great detail and including live videos. The so-called “apps” also make a limitless supply of games available.
For both the active user and the abstainer, IT is always taken for granted in the background, even if personal views are very different. We therefore need to take a closer look at the question of quality of life, especially because the introduction and development of IT can bring about a wide range of advantages for the whole human race. People on different continents are brought closer together by means of information and communication. In the field of medicine, IT enables better treatments and quicker recoveries. IT removes heavy work tasks, improves security and supports education. In short, life is no longer imaginable without it.
Very recent developments are accelerating information and communication, especially for the so-called IT generation.
However, like everything else in life, people use IT not only for good purposes, but also abuse it for their personal ends, such as to achieve and maintain power and financial advantages. It is therefore necessary to deal also with these aberrations. The founder of the INTEGRATA Foundation for the Humane Use of IT has studied these matters, and I would like to bring in some of his thoughts here.
Not only the abuses, but also the points of contact with IT which we all experience have become so manifold that it promises to be a worthwhile undertaking to follow the founder’s example and take an objective and unbiased look at the subject.
In the work of the foundation, we have observed that many people’s reaction to the subject is often very negative, sometimes making us think that there must be hoards of scientists and experts roaming the world, warning of the dangers of IT. In fact, the opposite is the truth. IT is supposed to be making everybody’s life better, as we propose to show with the following simple systematic analysis and a wide range of examples.
If, for example, we look in the German newspaper “Handelsblatt”, we will find every day new reports about how IT is having a positive or negative influence on our lives. We propose to include these reports as examples in the following ten-point analysis of the quality of life.
II. What do we mean by “improved quality of life”?
As we have already observed, different people take different views on the question of the quality of life. It therefore seems to be a good idea to have a more detailed look at the criteria for assessing the matter.
The ten points for the assessment of the quality of life used by the INTEGRATA Foundation are the product of long discussions, started and first formulated by Professor Heilmann on the occasion of his lecture at the FZI in Karlsruhe on 28th October 2008 at the award of the Dr. Wolfgang Heilmann prize for humane use of IT: “Socially-beneficial Applications of Information and Communication Technology.” These are listed below, including illustrative examples.
The ten points consist of programmes and ideas for action to help people and of aspects of social policy.
Maintenance and restoration of physical and mental health.
This has now become a very big area, with which each of us is closely concerned.
Let us take an example from it online in September 2009. This was the announcement of a forthcoming “Telemedical Forum” on the future of the health system at which Tele-Radiology, eHealth, Tele-Surgery and Life Science projects where to be presented, always bearing in mind that the financial viability and competitiveness of the service providers would play an ever more important role. It seems clear that emergency and in-patient treatment in rural areas can be enhanced in rural areas by Tele-Medicine. But does it make sense to use it in all areas? Is it necessary to endanger safety in order to achieve relatively low-level savings?
A report in the Handelsblatt on 26th September 2009, on the other hand, was clearly very positive: “Electronic visual support devices prove to be of practical use”, with the subheading: “A chip in the eye may soon be able to replace the white stick. Marketable version expected in 2011”. Here we can already see in the headline that a new IT application is going to improve the quality of life of a number of people. The research group go so far as to state that it will one day be possible to restore the sight of many blind people.
This report also appeared in the Schwäbisches Tagblatt on 19th December 2009, it being a research team in Tübingen which had achieved this enormous breakthrough. The pilot study has now been completed and a pan-European study will be started in the following year. If the application for EU approval is successful, the chip could be on the European market by the end of 2010. This is a very good example of improvement in the quality of life.
The project that won the Wolfgang Heilmann Prize is not quite so spectacular, but still a significant contribution to the quality of life. This was the development of a wheelchair which a paralysed person can steer by movements of the eyes. The project was not only described at the award ceremony, a prototype was actually demonstrated in use. A very significant contribution by IT to the quality of life in the field of health.
Another report in the Handelsblatt, on 22nd September 2009, illustrates another of our points. The headline read: “Therapy cures teenager of computer addiction”. The report was about young people who are taken out of the real world by excessive dedication to computer games and the internet, often becoming unable to return to reality. But is this therapy necessary? It certainly is; it is in the real world that the young people have to acquire the information and deal with the communication essential for their education and professional futures and to deal with other people. So it is essential to bring them back into it with care.
There are other interesting developments in this field which should be dealt with here. IT in the health system is a constantly growing field. An internet email on 15th December 2009 posed the questions: “Tele-Medicine Forum: Tele-Medicine, the future of the health system?” and “Specialist forum: electronic documentation and archives in the health system”, and Business Round Table: IT security in the hospital; time for an update?” It seems clear that IT is becoming increasingly important in the health system, reaching into many areas and raising many questions. Whether this new development has brought about an improvement in the quality of life is impossible to say at the moment. This is especially true for the health card, the most controversial project in the health system at present. Doctors protest strongly against the creation of the totally transparent patient through the networking which the health card is designed to achieve. This card is coming to Germany and will achieve a saving of up to five million euros (Handelsblatt 1st December 2009, pp. 32-33). The introduction will cost 1.5 billion euros, but should create the kind of network already established in other countries. A big challenge, however, is to be faced in the networking between medical practices, hospitals, and the health insurance providers. Special card readers will have to be installed and connected via secure routers with the internet.
The card contains the patient’s data, which the doctor can store, which should support treatment in the event of an emergency and enable doctors to share information about the patient. For the time being, electronic prescriptions and electronic patient files are not planned. Agreement was reached on this with the Minister of Health. Many European countries already have “transparent patients”, and it is only a matter of time before Germany has them too.
This is, of course, good business and growth potential for the IT industry, creating new jobs.
Internal and external security while maintaining human dignity
Does the computer-controlled house improve the quality of life? It does improve protection against burglary, e.g. by simulating occupancy while the owners are absent (switching house lights on and off), movement sensors activate flood lights in front of garages and in gardens. There are alarm systems with direct connections to the police. The need for these safety measures against crime is a concomitant of not very positive trends in our society, and therefore part of a negative development in the quality of life.
A positive aspect is a system which switches on the heating before the owners return home from a journey.
How the presence of solar panels on the roof of the house in order to save fossil fuels is to be judged will be discussed under point 9, Nature and the Environment.
The question of telecommunications data retention should be included here under point 4. There have been almost 35,000 complaints to the German Federal Constitutional Court claiming that the trust of IT users has been diminished because basic rights have been infringed. The problem is the 2008 law obliging telecommunications providers to store data on telephone and internet connections for half a year. Investigators into serious crimes are to be allowed access to these data. Statistics show that in 2008, German police accessed these data resources on nearly 14,000 occasions. The Constitutional Court is looking into the matter and a judgement is expected in spring (Handelsblatt 16th December 2008).
3. Freedom and traffic control
Establishment and maintenance of freedom and socially acceptable traffic conditions
The free movement of persons has become a highly valued aspect of our society. Everyone regards it as his right to go where he wants when he wants. This requires a highly-developed transport system, enabling everyone to reach any place on earth in a reasonable time. To this end, traffic control systems have been developed using IT. No traffic control system without IT would be imaginable today. We only need to think of an airport, large shipping port, or main railway station. Even road traffic would collapse in any sizeable town if the computer controlling the traffic lights broke down.
There are an increasing number of traffic control systems on the German autobahn and in towns which regulate speed limits in relation to weather conditions and the volume of traffic using IT systems. There are also IT systems to regulate tolls for road usage now working, after much controversy around their initial failure to function when first installed a few years ago.
There are a large number of interesting examples in the submissions made for the Wolfgang Heilmman prize 2004/2005 on the subject of “Easing traffic congestion using telematic and telecontrol systems”.
4. Information and communication
Reestablishment and maintenance of trust between communication partners by appropriate information and free communication
The significance of this point is underscored by the almost weekly “data scandal” stories in the media. We will recall Telekom, Lidl, and now the Austrian Federal Railway. We do not want to dwell on this surveillance of staff and citizens, but refer to the fact that a “Pirate Party”, described as a collection of internet freaks or an internet party, fielded candidates in the election to the German Federal Parliament. The surprise was the unexpectedly high level of support for this party, whose manifesto stated that citizens should have control over who should be allowed to hold and pass on data about them, and that authorities should be compelled to divulge all the data about a citizen which they have on record.
This indicates strongly that in our country, the trust of the communication partners is limited and needs to be re-established on a new basis. There must be no more prying, and confidential data must not be collected and passed on to others. Only when this has been achieved will it be possible to talk about an improvement in the quality of life.
In this connection, a report in the Handelsblatt on 22nd September 2009 is worthy of mention. The headline read: “Facebook pays millions in compensation”. Since the end of 2007, Facebook had been automatically collecting data about purchases by Facebook members from Facebook retailers. A class-action lawsuit in the USA forced Facebook to deactivate this programme and to spend $9.5 million dollars to set up a trust for the promotion of data protection in the internet. This incident illustrates to what extent IT is being used inhumanely all over the world.
The data protection issue also belongs to our point 2, as the external and internal security of every individual is endangered by such practices.
Let us return to our starting point. We referred to the incredible proliferation of mobile communication devices. The reasons for this are manifold: Anyone who appreciates the “fun factor” of the mobile phone experiences a surge in quality of life when using an iPhone. An article in the Handelsblatt of 28th December 2009 describes how the iPhone has experienced an incredible conquest of the whole planet so that it is no longer possible to ask whether or not it contributes to an improvement in the quality of life. The article stresses the role of the “apps” with the healine: “The great apps conquest”. The “apps” are small programmes for mobile devices which seem to have revolutionised the internet. They were mainly introduced by Apple. The mini programmes offer simple services or entertainment. A recently very successful entertainment “app” is “Farmville”, which was used by over 60 million people worldwide last year. Experts believe that a high number of professional applications will set the tone in the coming years. Automobile manufacturers are especially active in this respect. BMW already has an “app” store. But marketing strategists also see an ideal new vehicle for the future.
At the same time, however, there is a development that calls for investment in electricity supply networks and telephone cables. So called e-energy should cause a software-based electricity system to be set up which will intelligently control the generation, distribution and consumption of electricity. An example would be the intelligent electricity meter which would take its readings from the central energy supplier. Some experts also see opportunities for e-government (See point 8).
In conclusion, let us look at a contribution to an open discussion on the quality of life. The October 2009 edition of the magazine NEWS (pp. 27 – 28) contained an article with the headline: “Keep communication flowing: when landline, mobile, and PC work hand in hand”. These key words should be enough to start the discussion.
8. Education and training
The characterisation could be: Opening access to education and training taking into account the individual capacity to learn while ensuring the ideological neutrality of education and entertainment
There are a lot of positive examples to be mentioned in connection with this point. Many of them also belong under point 4, since information and communication are an integral component of education.
Here a very positive and simple international example. The author was able to make contact with the faculty of the University of La Plata in Argentina through personal contacts in the mid 1980s. We were very enthusiastic about concluding an agreement for the exchange of students and teaching staff and for joint research work. Very soon, however, we found that a letter, and especially a hefty parcel containing material for lectures and seminars, took an average time of six weeks to cover the distance between Reutlingen and La Plata, and every second letter of parcel got lost on the way. As a consequence, we sent everything twice and planned at least 8 weeks time for delivery. And even that was sometimes not enough. This prevented the cooperation from taking off properly. And then came the internet. All participants then suddenly experienced the cooperation at a new level and found the whole experience thoroughly enjoyable. The project then flourished, providing students in both countries with options for study and careers.
Let us also take a look at a report in the “do it. Newsletter of 22nd October 2009. This newsletter sees itself as “the weekly information service of MFG for more innovation with IT and media in Baden-Württemberg”. A news item in the said edition carried the headline: “New building for the study programme Media and Information Technology of the University of Applied Science in Offenburg. The state of Baden-Württemberg is investing12.15 million euros and emphasising the promotion of education and science”. Such measures taken by the state have to be seen in the long-term perspective, but they could completely change the way we live, as shown by the example under point 7.
This point has shown the wide range of opportunities for IT to improve the quality of life and learning. Here are some more recent examples which have particularly inspired discussion:
Let us take a closer look at a special example in the field of learning for the management of business organisations (see also point 7). A programme of study in Business should produce graduates who, after some years of work experience, should be able to take over the management of a company in a competent and professional manner with a full grasp of the whole business environment. This means that the graduate should have a thorough understanding of all the operational areas, such as procurement, production, marketing and distribution, logistics, accounting, finance, human resources and ethics, IT, and be able to coordinate their functions in such a manner as to ensure the long-term survival of the company and the jobs of all its staff. This is taught theoretically at the schools, but the students do not yet understand it at all properly, because it can only really be learnt thoroughly in practice.
The question is: how can this gap be bridged? How can the results of the practical learning experience be integrated into the learning process. The bridge can be provided by a management simulation.
“LearnSim” is one possible simulation appropriate for this purpose. This is a very complex, and therefore very realistic simulation involving three or four production companies, all of which are active competitors in five different but interdependent markets. The management team of 3 or 4 people has 28 decision-making variables with which to steer the company through the simulation. These variables cover the operations of procurement, production, research and development, investment, promotion, distribution, pricing, credit, profitability, and market research. The team members divide up responsibility for the various operations among themselves.
In 8 decision-making rounds (quarters) the teams decide on the given variables. At the end of each round, the results for the five markets are analysed in terms of market share and orders obtained and the results for the balance sheet, profit and loss account, cost account, solvency, and cash flow. The teams base their decisions in the next round on this information.
Four decision-making rounds make up one year, at the end of which the financial reports of the competitors are examined. These are useful for assessing the competition, especially in the fifth round. At the end of the second year (eighth round), each company holds an annual general meeting of its shareholders, to whom the team have to account for their results.
The game managers present a comparison of the results of all the participating teams and announce the best team. The teams with the best future orientation for their companies receive special mention. An important criterion for the assessment of the team’s performance is the corporate philosophy, as this is an essential determinant of the future orientation of the company.
The learning outcome with regard to future business practice is especially high, with positive implications for the quality of life of the individual and for society as a whole. Experience shows that a major difficulty for the participants is to reach agreement in the team about decisions and presentations. For this reason, we regard interpersonal cooperation in the company and in society as a central learning element, especially when team members of different nationalities are working together.
A further future-oriented development is e-learning, also referred to as blended learning. This form of learning is especially suitable for learning while working. As most participants in e-learning programmes are not content with learning on the internet alone, the independent study modules are complemented by attendance modules, where students meet each other in person. This kind of programme is known as blended learning, and is often used in programmes leading to academic degrees or certificates. A programme of a wide range of modules over a period of approximately two years can lead to examinations for an MBA degree.
The basic principle is that 20% of the learning content should be dealt with in attendance modules (e.g. at the Export-Akademie) and 80% in independent study. This model has a number of advantages:
- Participants have the opportunity to ask the teacher if something has not been understood
- Participants can consult each other about points they are having difficulty with
- Participants receive up to date knowledge straight from the real world of business from the teachers
- Participants deal with case studies together with business professionals
- Participants can exchange experiences with others from various branches of industry
- Individual questions and problems can be dealt with.
Participants see this combination of independent study and attendance phases at weekends as a very advantageous way of learning towards a business certificate or an MBA. They experience learning in this manner as an improvement in the quality of life.
The LearnSim management simulation mentioned above can be carried out in the form of e-learning or blended learning.
The precursor to blended learning programmes are the web-based training programmes. An interesting advertisement appeared in the Handelsblatt on 11th December 2009 offering 150 lectures under the heading “The home university.”
6. Work and earning opportunities
Creation of work and earning opportunities suitable for the individual, in adequate quantity and quality, to improve common welfare and promote common wealth
IT is one of the cross-sectional technologies which open up large numbers of opportunities for work and earning. An outstanding example of this is SAP. In just a few years, this company has created more than 30,000 jobs, all of them in the IT field. This is not the case with the mentioned cross-sectional technologies. Modern machines can not run without IT. This means that jobs are created in machine manufacturing companies to set up and maintain the IT systems which control the machines. It is difficult to define exactly which jobs are in the IT sector. The only statistics available which attempt to do this are from the Federal Office of Statistics, but since they are from way back in 2002 we shall not draw on them here.
One of the first examples in the field of IT is the home workplace. This is of growing importance as many women with one or more children strive to get back in to work to an appropriate extent, for which working from home is the ideal solution. Professor Heilmann published a book on the subject back in 1987 with the title “Teleprogramming”. But the idea is only starting to look really important today. Under the headline “Brave New World of Work”, on 14th September 2009 (p.10), the Handelsblatt proclaimed that in the future, workers would be connected by networks which will make it possible for them to work from anywhere in the world. “A single software platform will make it possible to make phone calls, send emails, set up conferences with just one click in any application”, and in the next ten years, this will have an impact on society of comparable significance to that of the introduction of email technology in the 1990s.
7. People leading people
The further development of information technology to become a helpful instrument for people leading others in the economy and society.
The first thing to point out is that nowadays all workers in all departments of a company want to have access to all information about products and production, in order to be able to work quickly and efficiently. This naturally presumes that the company has an appropriate computer system in place. This is usually not cheap and is thus a factor in considering a company’s competitiveness. The progress of IT in recent years has been enormous.
Here we are faced with the problem of the “cold” computer. Workers miss the personal discussion. It is therefore advisable for company
leaders to employ a blend of personal and computer controlled systems.
In this context, many workers do not view IT in a positive light. There are
many controversial topics for discussion which should be referred to the HumaniThesia-Portal.
8. Participation of citizens in opinion-forming processes
Promotion of citizen participation in public opinion forming processes and development of a community in which freedom, order, and justice have equal weight.
This area of discussion often brings up references to the “virtual town hall”, or “electronic government”, and is the least developed aspect of the field. Opportunities and risks involved in using IT in public services still provoke heated debate, with the result that only the obviously low risk applications come into use. This applies for libraries or the databases for registration of citizens’ data. There are examples of advanced systems in the field of vehicle registrations. But in the area of public services lies a very wide, open field, which we had perhaps better leave to the experts at the HumaniThesia-Portal.
9. Protection of nature and the environment
The central theme of this point is the protection of nature and the environment from destructive exploitation, and the promotion of natural processes and the good of coming generations.
Under the headline “Climate-neutral Webconferences”, do it.online on 9th November 2009 reported that a company in Karlsruhe was offering climate-neutral facilities for online meetings. As well as proposing that travel to meetings should be avoided and online meetings preferred, the company was proposing to make the online meetings climate neutral by making a donation to a project in Mexico for the reforestation of an area the size of seven football fields. This area of forest would draw an amount of CO2 from the atmosphere equivalent to the amount of CO2 emitted in the generation of energy for the IT infrastructure in a fifteen-month period.
This is an effective publicity stunt, but shows the increasing extent to which IT experts are concerned with the protection of nature and the environment.
Direct energy savings are claimed for the IT systems of Bosch and Siemens household devices.
The whole population is also called to action as all media report ever more intensely on such issues as the environmental problems connected with the destruction of the rainforests, and the slaughter of elephants for the sake of their ivory. There is now no problem in the world which does not get widely reported (sometimes in drastic form) right up to the minute on television, Youtube, vie gmx or iPhone. But most of the reports just pass the public by, largely unnoticed. Nevertheless, a change in consciousness has occurred, which is surely a success for IT.
A popular current catchword is “Green IT”. This refers to an ecological information technology which uses intelligent software to reduce CO2 emissions by as much as a quarter. Information on this can be found in a study by Telekom and other IT companies under the headline “Smart 2020 Deutschland”.
10. Overcoming the Meaning of Life Crisis
The meaning of life crisis of modern people must be overcome and replaced by a dignified way of life with time for culture and religion.
In comparison to the telephone, the introduction of the net has definitely been a big step forward in terms of reducing pressure of time. Internet users can deal with messages from partners and friends when they have time and leisure and are in the mood to do so. The pressure of time and continual interruptions of the telephone are dispensed with and the contents can be dealt with in a concentrated manner in a calm atmosphere.
Here, however, a new problem arises: that both the private and work-related electronic mail boxes get clogged up with unwanted messages, a problem that can not be completely solved by installing a spam filter.
The websites offering computer games of all sorts are also a significant problem, with gruesome very realistic contents in which people are brutally killed in order to gain the maximum number of points. Addiction to such games has become a real social problem. In the USA, courses of therapy are offered for withdrawal from the computer mouse and play stations. The therapy takes 45 days, covers twelve steps, and is very similar to methods used to combat alcoholism. The therapy is a first step to overcome the sense of meaninglessness; it is mostly young people who submerge themselves in a fantasy world, from which they are then often unable to find a way out and back to the real world. Much further research is needed into this problem. (See also point 1.)
Many people today enjoy shopping online, especially if it can be done internationally. Anything you want can be bought, and travel bookings can be made at home, in the evening, at the weekend, or whenever you want. The goods are then delivered to your home. In legal disputes arising from internet shopping, courts find more and more often in favour of the consumer (Handelsblatt 21st October 2009, p.15). This is certainly a positive contribution to alleviating pressure of time, but also to reducing the sense of meaninglessness, if the time saved on shopping can be used meaningfully. This applies too to all the search functions for telephone numbers, railway timetables, company addresses, market research, etc. With modern IT, these searches take up far less time than used to be the case.
A whole range of other time-saving systems can be mentioned here: administration of buildings, electronic cards for identification of staff members, library administration, scanning of products at supermarket checkouts, information displays on buses and trains, sticks with high storage capacities, etc. The aim is to be better informed and to save time that can then be put to better uses.
The question arises, however, with regard, for example to Facebook, of whether other IT systems do not simply waste the time we save on the kind of functions listed above.
On the whole, however, I would suggest that the balance is positive; IT has improved the quality of life in these respects.
Let us now look at a further aspect of IT and some statistics, before we come to the question of a better interconnection between IT and the quality of life.
III. What does IT involve?
The categorisation is not just a statistical question; it is also a question of attitude to life with objectives and values and a question: which areas have the greatest influence on our lives? Thus, there can be various definitions.
The concept of IT often includes communications technology, which is the way we shall look at it here: we shall view the wide area of television, radio, etc., and entertainment electronics as part of IT. This obviously greatly extends the concept and shows what a huge influence IT (or perhaps we should rather say ICT) has on our lives.
IV How can the interconnection between the quality of life and ICT be improved?
Our headline question can be approached by a further question: What influence does IT have on each of the 10 points under section II. Quality of Life? Here we will take some points from those dealt with above and assess them from a different point of view.
- Controlling in-company processes with ICT: workers are put under pressure and feel that they have no freedom to make their own decisions. The company is made more competitive and the worker’s job is more secure; but the worker’s quality of life has been impaired.
- Traffic control with ICT: the driver feels that he is being manipulated by others, but there is an energy saving and reduction in stress levels. There is a significant improvement in quality of life.
- Health care support using ICT: patients can recover at home, thus reducing stress levels. There is less risk of infection and cost savings. There is a general improvement in quality of life, also in a wider social sense.
- Blended learning programmes have proved that they can provide a means of dealing with the great demands of life-long learning. The software developers now need to develop good and user-friendly learning programmes with simple means of communication for the home learner.
If we look at all of these examples in relation to the quality of life and the four points above, then we see that there is one common aspect to all these points, which is closely related to the quality of life question, and that is the often mentioned “Society and Economy” and their underlying values. This means that to achieve changes in the quality of life, we must think about changes in society and the economy.
Let us first go back to questions about the economy.
Much is written about this in the print media. Let us look at some articles in the Handelsblatt. Headline: “An idea changes the whole of IT”, sub-headline: “Cloud Computing offers new opportunities – not only for customers, but also for suppliers”. The idea is that “in future, computer users will buy IT in the same way they buy electricity: out of the wall socket” (Handelsblatt, 3rd December 2009, p. 34). ICT will be procured directly from the internet, without any further necessary investment. Developers are, however, still a long way from this kind of standardisation, in the opinion of Volker Smid, CEO of HP Germany, in the same edition of the paper. But there are many experts who predict a change in the whole information economy.
If we look at publications by Apple and IBM, we are inclined to think that they are right. Apple reported an increase in sales of 25% and and increase in profits of 47% for the 3rd quarter of 2009. In spite of the economic crisis, sales of iPhones and laptops have reached record highs (Handlesblatt, 21st October 2010, p. 15). IBM is now focussing on software and services, and is doing very well. Although sales declined by 7.2% in the 3rd quarter, profits rose by 14%. These are much better results than those of other IT companies. This is also reflected in share prices, which rose by 50% from start of year to 18th October 2008 (Handelsblatt, 19th October 2009, p. 15). It is plain to see that the big companies are adapting very rapidly to changes in the economy, to which they are also contributing.
The do it. Newsletter of 22nd October 2009 reported a striking change in our society:
Nearly 14 million Germans will be over the age of 70 in the year 2020. And an increasing number of them will, in spite of numerous health problems, be living relatively independent lives in their own homes. This is made possible by IT based technologies which receive signals from the environment and use these to help older people. A Living Laboratory at Forschungszentrum Informatik (FZI, and IT research centre) shows how it works.”
There have been very interesting discussions recently about gross domestic product (GDP). Should this continue to be the only criterion by which we measure economic development? The answer of a commission of experts set up by French President Sarkozy is a clear “no”. The commission’s report was presented by Noble laureate Josequ Steglitz. The report recommends that additional criteria should be taken into account when assessing economic development, including the health of the population, consumer behaviour, personal income, personal property, and leisure activities. Damage to the environment and levels of social inequality should also be taken into account. The EU is already considering this “progress barometer” and wants to include the environment and quality of life in the calculation. These ideas are good, but the appropriate models have not yet been established. This is certainly not because of the complex IT necessary to assess the data, but because of a lack of international consensus required to achieve comparable indicators (see Handelsblatt, 15th September 2009).
A report the “Sun Inner Circle Newsletter for October 2009 is also interesting in this connection, telling engineers that making money is not the only measure of success, but that the real differences made to our society and our environment must be part of every assessment of the success of products and services.
Let us finally look at two other assessments of changes made in people’s lives by IT. First of all, a report on differences between levels of performance at school between boys and girls. We include this here because it is very often wrongly assumed that the cause for the difference in performance is to be found in the video and computer games that the boys spend so much of their time playing. The real causes, however, are much more complex. Aktion Bildung für March 2009 lists them as:
- Feminisation: teachers in kindergarten and primary school are predominantly women.
- Classroom activities do not take account of boys’ needs (e.g. for physical movement).
- Computer and video games are not integrated into teaching.
- Teachers (like parents) are not prepared for these new media.
Here we see again that more intensive involvement of society with the new developments in ICT and some small adjustment of working practices might lead to an improvement in the quality of life (see Handelsblatt, 15th September 2009).
Finally, a Handelsblatt article under the striking headline, “IT changes the brain”, reported on the results of 8 research projects from the USA, Germany, UK, and Canada:
- Internet and computer games promote rapid reaction to information and stimuli.
- They promote multitasking skills.
- They promote visual awareness.
- People who spend a lot of time surfing the net have enhanced planning and information processing skills.
- Internet research stimulates parts of the brain responsible for short-term memory and decision making, mainly in the frontal lobes.
In the Handelsblatt for 19th November 2009 (p. 20) we read: “Searching the internet stimulates complex brain activity and may help to train and improve brain functions.”
However, the research also showed some negative effects:
- Computer games cause a reduction in concentration spans. Intensive players tire more quickly.
- Internet leads to superficial reading. New forms of “reading” arise.
- The visual nature of the media encourages visual intelligence at the expense of more profound processing, thus impairing analytical abilities, critical thinking, imagination, and reflection (Handelsblatt, 19th November 2009, p. 20).
A further thought at this juncture. The development of satellite navigation systems involved an enormous amount of IT research and has led to very high sales volumes. This means that a lot of people depend totally on orientation instructions from an electronic instrument, and after years of use become unable to find their way anywhere without it. There are, however, many people whose enthusiasm for this device is boundless.
This, however, is another matter on which it is not possible to reach a conclusive conclusion on the contribution to the quality of life. The computer generation are impressed by the device’s advantages; the non-computer generation regret the loss of important human skills.
About the Author
Prof. Pfeiffer concentrates his teaching, research and consulting in: Marketing, International Business, Management (especially General Business Administration, Production Management, International Marketing, International Management Simulations, International Business, Opening Export-Markets, Product Market Strategies, Innovation Management), International Benchmarking.
He has been repeatedly elected as member of the Board of the Society for Economic and Social Cybernetics (GWS) in Frankfurt. Elected as Vice-President of Reutlingen University of Technology and Business (1983 to 1985). Elected three times as Head of Department of International Marketing at the Export-Akademie Baden-Württemberg, and Director of the Export-Akademie (1989-1995). Professor of International Management and Management Simulations at the Export-Akademie Baden-Württemberg (1995 to present). Head of the German Division of the benchmarking project International Best Factory Awards and International Best Service Awards (1995 to present).