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- Information technology and living standards: the Department of Social Security Community Research Project
- Newton, Peter W.
- The principal objectives of this discussion paper are four-fold: to access the importance and potential role of information technology (IT) to improve living standards; to examine mechanisms and processes which would allow people on low incomes to have the choice and opportunity to use information technology to improve their living standards general; to provide an overview of existing and planned applications of information technology which have as an objective the enhancement of the living standards of individuals and families with particular emphasis on social and political participation, community services, access to information, family relationships, personal wellbeing, economic resources and employment; and to identify and discuss possible roles for the Department of Social Security particularly and the Commonwealth Government generally in facilitating the choices and opportunities of people on low incomes to use information technology to improve their living standards generally. In this paper, the nexus between information technology and living standards rests in part upon the historical evidence available from previous social transitions, where an inability to particpate fully in new forms of work spawned by revolutionary new technologies relegated individuals and families to the status of second class citizens in their own country. In many respects, the transition to an informational society is only in its infancy. As such, the outworkings of this latest societal transition are often difficult to grasp. Drawing primarily upon employment data, however, it was possible in Part 1 of this report to establish clearly that Australia is in the process of undergoing a transition from an industrial to an informational society. The corollaries of this transition were established as being: increasing volume and variety of information - mostly electronic and increasingly on-line; new technologies and new classes of work - involving cognitive rathern than manual dexterity; higher order skills required for higher paying jobs - primarily achieved through tertiary education; internationalisation of production and substitution of capital for labour - not enough 'traditional' jobs to go round. Increasing disparities in income - social and spatial polarisation of the population - the new urban poverty; and a recognition that citizens in the 21st century will need to acquire a new set of skills for basic functioning in society - using computers and networked information. In Part 2 of the report a model of human functioning in society is outlined which relies heavily upon the concept of capability - where capability is developed via the availability of resources (such as IT) and an individual's ability to use them. Use of IT to full potential rests heavily upon the dual human skills of literacy and computer literacy. In this context, several groups were identified which were considered to have specific IT needs: disabled (physically, mentally) elderly, unemployed, ethnic and non-English speaking populations, low income, illiterate. Part 3 of the report explores IT systems and applications that offer some prospect to 'at risk' populations for enhancing their status in relation to information access. The Internet provides us with a window on the 'information superhighway' of the 21st century, with its wide array of services capable of linking individuals into both a global and a local network of information, accesible from a domestic PC and modem. The content of the Internet is vast, with information available on al the key domains of life: the social, the economic and the political. Access to the Internet enhances an individual's real income, given that an increasing number of activities and institutions in today's society are now virtual (e.g. banking, shopping, work from home, news and entertainment etc.) The problem is that, for individuals on low income or with some form of disability, the IT revolution is beginning to pass them by. To date the IT revolution is primarily market-driven, responding to the needs of those with the disposal income and the knowledge to apply the technology in new and innovative ways. Governments in Australia and overseas, however, have recognised the revolutionary potential of the new computer and communications technologies and are developibng policies and programs tailored to the objectives of particular department portfolios. For the Department of Social Security, IT is seen as providing one avenue for enhancing the standard of living of individuals and families who are currently experiencing difficulties in participating fully in the contemporary social and economic life of Australia. Without government intervention, the gap between the IT 'haves' and 'nave nots' is set to widen. By the end of this decade, there are likely to be no remaining technological barriers for those with the necessary human capital (money, skills etc.) to gain unprecedented access to local, national and global information - from their homes. For those with personal access to networked computers, the information and associated opportunities appears unlimited. Consequently, the benefits of belonging to and participating in an information must be available to all Australians, and in a period of social, economic and technological transition government has a central role to play in ensuring equality of access. [Synopsis]
- Publication type
- Department of Social Security Policy Research Papers, No. 71
- Publication year
- Australia; Community Research Project; Computer networks; Cost of living; Information networks; Information technology; Internet; Public welfare; Standard of living
- Australian Government Publishing Service
- Copyright © Commonwealth of Australia 1996.
- Full text
- Peer reviewed