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Information Revolution

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The radical changes wrought by computer technology on the storage of and access to information since the mid-1980s. Information previously stored on paper and manipulated manually is increasingly held on computer networks, which allow instant retrieval from anywhere in the world and sophisticated computerized processing in ways and at speeds that have not previously been possible. Also, using the same computer networks, individuals can easily communicate with each other worldwide and share information. Three factors have driven this Information Revolution. First, information-based occupations grew in importance throughout the 20th century (for example, nearly all office work deals with information), which produced a latent demand for more efficient storage and processing systems. These were provided by the second factor: the advent of cheap computing power in the 1980s and (especially) the 1990s that followed the development of the microprocessor in the 1970s. Previously, computer technology had been so expensive that it could only be used by large organizations for special purposes; now, it was so cheap that its cost was no longer a significant issue. Also, the spread of cheap personal computers with user-friendly operating systems meant that computer use was no longer confined to the computer specialist, which enabled vastly more people to make direct and convenient use of computerized information. The third factor, which made a crucial contribution from the early 1990s, was the Internet: a global computer network already in place that could be utilized to connect information providers and information consumers anywhere in the world. The Information Revolution has already had major effects on both business and personal life. Organizations can now make information readily available to staff via corporate intranets (private networks that work in the same way as the Internet); retailing companies now generally hold less stock, relying on the instant availability of stock-control information from electronic point-of-sale terminals to allow just-in-time purchasing; many questions can be answered quickly by a search of the Internet, which can also be used to buy products and services; and people can communicate worldwide via e-mail and other Internet-based technologies. Old skills have become redundant while new ones are in demand: jobs have declined in such areas as banking and printing, but new professions have been created, for example web designer and IT user support. This has led to concerns over the potential for a growing economic and social divide between those people with the skills to take advantage of the Information Revolution and those without. There are also non-economic issues, in particular concerns over privacy and whether the large amount of personal information held in computer systems is adequately protected. The answers to these questions are currently unclear. The Information Revolution is still in its early stages and the full consequences of its opportunities and problems have yet to emerge.

Subjects: History

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