Technology has the ability to do great things, as has been demonstrated numerous times throughout history. It has revolutionized industries, created new ones, and spelled the demise of others. Today, however, we are using technology to evolve industries; building upon the foundations of an industry, and re-imagining how work can be done within it.
Gone are the stacks of pen and paper in retail, instead being replaced by the mouse and keyboard. The inefficiencies of the hospital waiting room are being improved by always-on access to patient records, making sure people with pressing issues are admitted first. And in education, perhaps the most important, students are being engaged in learning through new methods, using technologies such as the Internet to access information, instead of paper textbooks.
These three industries (retail, medical, and education) are being affected very strongly by technology today, and the effects of technology run deep.
The retail industry has evolved significantly in recent years, notably since the advent of computers. “Retail” was at its core the same industry in 1900 as it was in 1750—inefficient and often slow. People did not have access to the same goods that people take for granted today, perhaps because there was no easy method of managing distribution and buying or selling. However, when retail industry members realized how to properly implement computer systems in their business model, things began to change drastically.
Stock Levels, They Are a-Changin’
Gone are the days when stock had to be recorded in paper books and kept in storage. Instead, all store managers have to do now is to input how much stock has been sold, and how much arrived, and their computers can manage knowledge of the store’s stock levels. When stock of a certain item begins to run low, the system notifies the manager to buy more of that item. Advanced systems can run all of this automatically, from the buying of stock to when it is sold.
In some systems, whenever stock is shipped to a certain store, that store is notified of what will be arriving when, so they can anticipate stock levels. The moment an item is bought from the store, the stock levels are adjusted accordingly. When stock of a certain item begins to run low, the store automatically notifies the supplier that it needs more of it, and has it bought and shipped to them. This allows for retail managers to relieve themselves of the duties of administering to stock levels, instead allowing them to focus on interacting with customers or improving the store experience.
Talk, Talk, Talkin’ to The Guy Next Door
Advancements have been made in other areas of retail, such as communication. Whereas previously communications organizing the sale of components to manufacturers down the supply chain might have been completed through letters or face-to-face meetings, the computer (more specifically the Internet) allows these meetings to happen from anywhere in the world. Video chatting technologies such as Skype allow members of a meeting to see and hear each other, making communications more clear than if they were conducted through letter. This also allows for much faster and cheaper completion of negotiations, as they can be completed with less correspondence.
A Great Day for Storage
Storage of information has also been affected hugely by computers. The density at which we are storing information has increased dramatically over the years, meaning the amount of space needed to store a piece of information has decreased. In the past, information was recorded on paper and stored in a room somewhere, taking up space. A letter written on standard letter paper would take up the amount of space of that piece of paper, which could become difficult to manage if there was lots of letters being stored. However, with modern storage technologies implemented through the computer, that letter can be stored in far, far, far less physical space than if it was in its physical copy.
The hard drives on which computers store information generally have a size of 3.5in, but can store up to 4TB of information on them. To put that in perspective, a letter written in standard letter format, a full page in length takes up approximately 25KB of space, which is a miniscule portion of the capacity of modern hard drives. This allows for far more storage in less space, saving costs for the people needing that storage. Another advantage is brought on by these new storage methods: it takes far less time to find the file or record one is searching for!
Previously people would have to search through boxes of paper records to find the information they needed, but now all they have to do is sit down at a computer and search for the file they are looking for, and they can find it with ease.
Storing information on hard drives does not come without its share of issues. As paper is at risk of catching fire, so too are hard drives, but they have other issues as well. For example, hard drives can and almost always will fail after time, risking the loss of data stored on that hard drives. For that reason hard drives can be easily backed up, all the files copied to another drive, which makes the data much safer. This is an advantage hard drives have over storage methods used in the past, when backing up paper documents involved copying them out again, often by hand.
The medical industry has evolved in ways that could previously only be wished for. Using computers, hospitals are able to maintain a database of patient records, allowing them to organize waiting room times according to highest priority. These records can be shared between hospitals, ensuring an enriched experience offered to patients wherever they go. Computers also allow medical staff to consult with one another with more ease; if a nurse does not know how to deal with a certain issue, they can call up a doctor and have a video conversation so that the doctor can explain with actions and gestures how to proceed.
Patient records being available any time and nearly instantly allows for far greater accuracy when completing procedures or diagnosing a patient. For example, if a patient has previous experience getting stung by bees, and has not developed a rash before, but is now suffering a reaction to being stung, doctors and nurses might use this information to help with their diagnosis of the patient.
Building on this notion of a database of patient records, there are also databases for medical professionals consisting of knowledge about diseases, medications and their side effects, as well as how to treat certain illnesses or injuries. These allow doctors and nurses to collaborate far more effectively, and can increase the quality of treatment given to a patient. This also allows for medical professionals to not have to learn as much in their education because they will have access to it in a database of treatments once they are in the workforce. This can obviously lead to a decline in the knowledge of practitioners, which is dangerous given how vital they are to the continued well being of the human race. Granted, it is highly unlikely that medical practitioners will simply stop being taught the ins and outs of their craft, to be replaced by a database, but for more obscure treatments they may turn to these exterior information sources.
What if, all of a sudden, the medical databases were shut off, and doctors no longer knew how to treat certain cancers or other illnesses? Given, they may have the correct medication, but would they necessarily know the correct ways to administer it to gain maximum affect from its contents? This could be very dangerous if practitioners begin leaning on these external sources of information too much.
There is also emerging in medicine online check up methods for less serious illnesses. This may save patients from having to make a trip to the emergency room for something that is not a true emergency. They might instead book a time with their family doctor or general practitioner who can provide the same service the hospital could provide, but without having to go through the emergency room waiting room.
Technology has certainly allowed the medical industry to improve and streamline its operations, but is it at the expense of being able to rest assured that a doctor knows how to treat a certain illness?
The education industry is rapidly evolving due to the introduction of technology into classrooms. When the personal computer debuted, innovative educators saw an opportunity to aid and propel student learning using this groundbreaking device, and those who could afford computers bought them for their class. Of course, micro circuitry also allowed for calculators, far more affordable than a personal computer, and more specialized.
Teachers introduced calculators into their math classes, which allowed students to compute the result of an equation far faster than if they had been using the traditional pen and paper methods. As a result, students began to rely less and less on the traditional methods, instead turning to the calculator which was highly convenient. Teaching practices had to shift as well, to fit with this new paradigm of student learning.
As students began to use different methods to complete their work, teachers had to change as well. No longer was rote memorization as important as emphasized before, as now students could quickly access the information from a variety of different sources, instead of having to think it through. The teacher was not able to as easily control the information fed to children, as the Internet exposed them to a seemingly limitless barrage of it. Therefore, teachers began teaching students better ways to research, better ways to sift through the information they found to find what was of quality. Synthesizing ideas from this information instead of recalling facts was used as a tool to help students understand what they were learning.
However, the computer impacted students’ experiences at school in other ways as well.
Previously, when students had assignments they needed to hand in, it was necessary for them to write them up by hand. Now, students need merely to have access to a computer and a printer to “write up” their assignments, and it is not uncommon to find that a teacher requires the assignment be typed. This led to the fall of teaching handwriting (cursive) in schools, because it was no longer relevant. Why teach a student how to write neatly when in the future all of their work will revolve around typing, which will create perfect looking text for them?
Also, teachers became able to teach their students in more ways, as well as being able to support the learning needs of particular students better. When previously a science class may learn entirely from textbooks, now teachers can direct students to use a greater variety of resources.
Another great improvement to education brought about by modern technologies is that of online learning. Students can take courses taught anywhere in the world from any other place provided they have a connection to the Internet. This can lead to detrimental side effects, however, such as the student not having as great a connection with the teacher or not being able to express themselves through online communications. Words only convey approximately 7% of the message being sent, with tone making up 38% and nonverbal cues making up the other 55%. This shows a weakness of the increasing usage of technology in the classroom, wherein students interact less with their teachers and may not be able to learn to their full potential.
As technology is used more and more within classrooms, it is shifting not only the methods with which teachers teach and students learn, but also the mindsets of students. If one can quickly compute the answer to a math problem using a calculator, why bother with writing it out on paper? This may lead to laziness over time, as well as other detrimental side effects.
For sure, technology being introduced in classrooms is beneficial, but it is important at the same time that teachers teach the “old” methods of learning so that students do not become too reliant on their technology. A generation of students who rely entirely on their calculators to compute math problems would be problematic indeed.
The integration of modern technology into our industries is a gift that should not be taken for granted. Being freed from the methods of the past for the methods of the present allows us to reevaluate how we do business and improve the lives of consumers everywhere, as well as those in need of healthcare or education.
However, as modern technology continues to be integrated with our industries, it is important that those integrating the technology consider the potential implications down the line when the technology may not be available. It is of the utmost importance that we do not become so dependent on the technology that when it is not there for us we cannot survive.