Information and Communication Technology or (ICT) as majority would prefer to call it, is today playing major, if not critical role in all aspect of human life and more so, in communication. ICT has touched and will continue to touch and influence human life in the spheres of politics, governance, and economic; social and cultural development for a very long time to come. In this 21st century, ICT has continued to influence the way people do business, access information and communicate with one another.
There are many definitions of ICT as there are authors. Jager and Lokman (1999) has defined ICT as ‘ a generic term referring to technologies which are being used for collecting, storing, editing and passing of information of various forms.’ According to Olademeji (2005), information and communication Technology is “the manipulation of data by electronic means to collect, organize, record, process, distribute and store information for decision making purposes”. Perhaps in my view, United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization – UNESCO (2006) definition of ICT as “forms of technology that are used to transmit, store, create, share or exchange information” is the most comprehensive of the many definitions as it includes such technologies as radio, television, DVD, telephone, computers, internet, satellite systems, hardware as well as software. In addition, this definition by UNESCO includes equipment as well as services associated with these technologies such as electronic mail, video conferencing, electronic commerce and online banking among several others.
Communication on the other hand is part and parcel of human existence. According to Samovar et al (2012, 8), communication is inescapable. It is something we have to do and something we enjoy doing and in the digital age we do a lot of it. When we listen to music, or watch television; when we send or receive messages via email, face book or twitter, we are indeed engaged in communication. What then is communication? Samovar et al (2012, 9) citing (Griffin, 2005) defines communication ‘as the management of messages with the objective of creating meaning’. This means that we communicate with an intention of achieving some objective hence communication is intentional and purposeful. In order to manage and create meaning, communication involves the aspect of the sender who wants to communicate, the message itself to be communicated, and the channel through which the message gets to the receiver. The receiver after internalizing the meaning in the message prepares response which he or she sends back to the sender, now being the receiver, through the process of feedback.
Communication is therefore a systematic process through which people interact through the use of symbols and language to create and interpret meaning for the purpose of achieving some objective. Since human beings are social being, communication therefore assumes a more central and critical as of human life if not existence. Having looked at the both the definitions of the ICT and communication, the remaining pages of this paper will try to look into the role that ICT play in communication.
Computers Today’s world appears to have shrunk in size. One can move across the globe faster and without losing contact with one’s own environment. One can travel to the remotest part of the world and still maintain touch with his fellow beings. Communication between distant locations has evolved to such extent those expeditions to such places as the moon is possible and information between these two planets exchanged.
Modern telecommunication and wireless communication techniques have ensured that people remain in touch even when they are on the move. Kundu (2009, 1) tells us that the entire world of communication has been tapped within seconds by the mere click of a computer mouse. Our ability to store and share information has been tremendously made possible by the advent of computer technology supported by ICT.
The advent of computers has revolutionized communication. Computers were originally used by scientist to calculate numbers. But today, simplified models have been made that can be use virtually by anybody and everyone. Computers are nowadays part and parcel of our lives. We use them at home, at school, as well as in the offices to do research, write letters, print book, newspapers and magazines, draw pictures and diagrams; compute statistics, mathematical and keep financial records. We also use computers to make, store and play music and videos; control traffic lights, fly and guide aero planes as well as send and receive messages.
Shelly et el (2010, 2) defines a computer as ‘an electronic device operating under instructions stored in its own memory, that can accept data, process the data according to specified rules, produce results and store the results for future use’. The power of the computer lies in its ability to process data at an amazing speed accurately and reliably; its capacity to store huge amounts of data and information as well as its ability to communicate with other computers. ICT has made it possible for computers to perform all these hence aiding in communication.
The advent of technology has ensured that computers can be as small as a note book! As a result one can easily carry a computer and by extension its information with them wherever they go. Computer lap tops are nowadays common and have revolutionized communication. With a laptop one can work and communicate even in a car, aero plane as well as on train- virtually anywhere with ease and comfort. All this is as a result of ICT.
Electronic communication – the internet Without the ability to transfer or share information, computer would have been relegated to if not limited to only creating and storing of data and information. The potency of computers has been enhanced by its ability to electronically communicate through the internet- the ability to network computers. Internet is basically a collection of many types of computers and computer networks that are linked together. Communication being the basic process of information exchange has been made possible through electronic linkages. Electronic communication according to Kundu (2009, 21) is the act of relaying information or massages in the form of electrical signals from one point to another through electronic means. These signals include the voice, video and digital data.
Prior to electronic communication, all modes of communication were restrictive in nature. For instance, for a king to communicate to his subjects in his kingdom would entail him sending emissaries with horns or drums to summon the subjects to the kings meeting. This was not only slow but very time consuming and tedious. Today, a telephone or radio announcement would accomplish that in no time at all.
Information and communication technology has made electronic communication possible. In electronic communication, the message to be conveyed is converted into an electric signal through devices called transducers, which are the conveyed from the source to their destination either by electrical means using physical links like cables (fiber optic) or as part of electromagnetic spectra, conveyed through use of satellite or space, this is according to Kundu (2009, 21).
Electronic mail popularly referred to as e-mail has totally changed the way we communicate and do business in the world today. Before the advent of email, if you wanted to send information, one was required to write a letter and post it. The letter will take days if not weeks to arrive, that is if it ever arrived at all! It was not uncommon to lose very important documents over the post office. Thanks to the advent of e-mail, that is now a thing of the past. With e-mail, one can send and receive instant mails within no time at all electronically irrespective of the location and time differences between the sender and the receiver. This means that with ICT, information is at our finger tips- all we need is just a click of the mouse.
With the internet, we are able to keep in touch with other through the so called social media sites of which face book and twitter are the most common and popular. ICT has ensured that we can keep in touch with our friends and families. Through such media we are able to chat and share information. Imagine you are looking for a house and you have no time. Through the social media, your friends can assist you with such information at no cost at all. This, thanks to ICT.
Through the internet, one can access enormous amount of information. Thanks to ICT, such search engines as Google has made it possible for students and other researchers to research and get information virtually in any field or topic. Before, one could only access physical books in the library and such places but today with the assistance of ICT, you can conduct your research on the net in the comfort of your home or office without minding that the library will be close at night. Authors have downloaded and stored their books electronically thereby not only increasing the accessibility but also reducing on the cost and time of making such an access.
It is said that knowledge is power. This has not been demonstrated more than the revolution that has taken place in Egypt and the other Arab countries in the recent past. It is said that the peoples power that saw the removal of Hosni Mubarak from power in Egypt was largely due to the ability of people to communicate through the various mediums most potently, the phone, or to be more specific the mobile phone.
Today for most people, mobile communication has become a way of life, thanks to the advent of mobile phones made possible by ICT. During the era of fixed line telephoning, it would mean that one had to be in a particular place and time in order to communicate. This limited communication to a set of location – where the fixed line was located. Through the development and advent of ICT, this has totally changed today. According to Höflich (2005, 19), a person can reach others without either party being bound to a particular place. Indeed ICT has played a major role in what I would call ‘mobile communication’ which has ensured accessibility and availability of information anytime and everywhere.
With your mobile phone, one can communicate from anywhere, be it in the office, car, as one walks along the streets, there is no barrier or limitation as to where one can communicate from as long as it’s not in a restricted place. This has indeed given us the power of information at our finger tips and with us all the time. Before, one had to wait to phone from the office fixed line or public booth. This could not only inconvenience but also there was no privacy as more often than not, there would be a queue of people waiting to also use the service.
ICT has transformed the mobile phone handset into a computer. I remember when my brother bought his first mobile phone in the late 1990’s, he could only use it to talk or for voice purposes. The phone was limited in terms of memory and even the phone book could only store a few phone numbers, but thanks to ICT, today the mobile handset is a powerful gadget that will not only keep you in touch over voice but also data as well. You can send and receive music, video, data files from your hand held handset.
From your mobile phone, you can listen to music saved in the device as well as radio. You can also share your music and videos with friends thereby enhancing communication. ICT has made it possible to have applications in the mobile phone that will help you stay in touch with friends and family. For instance through the whatsApp, friends can chat, send short text messages (sms) and share files and information freely and conveniently irrespective of time and place.
In the past, one could be stranded in a place not knowing where to go or the direction to take without proper guidance. But thanks to the ICT, with a simple GPS application in your phone, you can be given or directed to where you are going not by anybody but by the phone. This is not only convenient but also has improved security. Before ICT one could be taken advantage of by thugs if you asked the wrong person for direction, instead of helping you, they would direct you to a location where you would be mugged. But with the GPS in your phone, you can easily find direction without problem.
ICT has also revolutionized learning. In the context of distance education according to Moore and kearsley (2011, 1), teachers and students are in different places for all or part of the time they teach and learn. And since they are in different places in order to interact with one another, they must depend on some form of communication technology and thanks to ICT, this has been made possible. Computers, internet, Skype, as well as teleconferencing among other technologies have made distance education possible.
A decade ago, video conferencing was difficult due to the fact that communication was basically over satellite which could limit the amount of data transmission. This has been solved in Kenya by the arrival of the under the sea fiber optic cables which has virtually opened up communication. The fiber has tremendously increased the speed of data connection and transmission and has connected Kenya with the developed world in addition to reducing the cost of accessing data over the net.
Thanks to ICT, today with your television, you not only access news but can virtually transform your television into a computer and vise vasa. If you already have a television, instead of buying a computer, all you need is a keyboard, a mouse or a joy stick attached to a black box on your television and you are home and dry. All this has been made possible through the advances in information and communication technology.
ICT has revolutionized banking and money transfer. Today with simple technology you can operate your bank accounts twenty four hours seven days a week. You do not need to physically go to the band to do your transaction. You can achieve this in the comfort of your house with the use of computers or mobile phone though what is now being called mobile banking. In the traditional set up, financial institutions would entail that the bank keep in touch with her customers through having physical branches.
Sarlak and Hastiani (2011, 2) has described e banking as “electronic connection between banks and customers in order to prepare, manage and control financial transactions”. Automated teller machines are common nowadays. Through ICT, one can purchase goods and services not with cash but card. This has relatively reduced incidences of losing your hard earned money to thugs.
Money transfer services have been made possible through ICT. Today people have accounts in their phones thanks to such services as m-pesa that has been made possible through ICT. This has not only increased communication but also created employment opportunities. Walk anywhere in the city and you will be amazed by the so many money transfer operators.
As much as I have tried to look at the positive role ICT plays in communication, it will be disservice if I were to conclude without pointing some setback. Through ICT, personal contact are being reduced or limited. For instance people would prefer to chat on face book as opposed to face to face communication. Marriages have been dissolved on the grounds that one partner or the other is spending so much time on the net and neglecting their partners. Wright and Webb, (2011, 288) has suggested that home access to ICT results to overworking, social isolation and endless interruption of family life leading to higher level of stress and a lowering of family satisfaction.
The use of ICT has exposed adolescents and young people to larger amount of information covering virtually any subject, anytime, anywhere. This according to Wright and Webb (2011, 288) is a source of tension regarding boundaries in many a families. The fact that adolescents and youths who have not yet developed good judgment can access any information has led to moral degradation. ICT has made it impossible for parents or adults to control or regulate external information. ICT has taken phonographic access to the highest level. Exposure to such content may lead to liberal sexual attitudes which may lead to likelihood of first sexual intercourse at an early age. Exposure to sexual behavior outside cultural norms may ‘develop a distorted view of sex as unrelated to love, affection and intimacy and a desire for emotionally uncommitted sexual involvement’ among the teenagers, this is according to Wright and Webb (2011, 288).
ICT has led to increased exposure to hate and hostility to others based on race, tribe, and religion among others. It is common knowledge that the violence following the disputed election in the year 2007 was fueled by hate messages sent via the internet. Even before election, there were various emails doing round that may have led to stereotypes and attitudes supporting tribal leanings. I recently saw an email so negative about my tribe that I was left wondering are we Kenyans one nation or many nations.
The advent of internet has also increased cyber crime. Have you ever received a mail informing you that a friend colleague or family is stranded somewhere and you need to send them money? Or have you waited for someone for a meeting and they tell you they are just around the corner and end up arriving one hour late. Or has a friend told you they are in the rural area when you are actually sitting on the bonnet of their car? ICT has made it easy for us to avoid contact, cheat and even involve in crime.
ICT has played a major role in how we communicate. Today the world is a global village due to the advances of ICT. Mobile phones have enabled us to communicate in real time with friends and contacts far away from us. Through e-commerce and e-governance, services has been brought closer to people and by touch of a button, a farmer in Nairobi is able to find market for his or her produce in Kisumu. With ICT, you can study at Harvard University while working in Nairobi through distance learning.
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Jagger, A.K. and Lokman, A, H. (1999). Impacts of ICT in Education: the Role of the Teacher Training. Paper presented at the European Conference on Educational Research, Lahti, Finland, held between 22nd– 25th September.
Kundu, S. (2009). Fundamentals of computer networks. New Delhi: PHI Learning Private Ltd.
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