When computer and communications technologies are combined, the result is information technology (IT). IT combines computing with high-speed communication links that carry data, sounds, and videos. Examples of information technology include not only personal computers (PCs), but also new forms of telephones, televisions, and different handheld devices. There are two parts to this definition: computers and communications:
• Computer technology: You have certainly seen, and probably used, a computer. However, let’s define it. A computer is a programmable machine that accepts data and processes them into information we can use. Its purpose is to speed up problem solving and save time, money, and energy.
• Communications technology: Certainly, you have been using communications technology for years. Communications technology, also called telecommunications technology, consists of electromagnetic devices and systems for communicating over long distances. Some examples are telephone, radio, and television. More recently there has been the addition of communications among computers _ which is what happens when people “go online” on the Internet. Online means using a computer or other information devices, connected by means of a network, to access information and services from another computer or information device.
As an example of a communications technology, let’s think of something that seems to be everywhere these days _ the Internet.
The Internet is a system that lets computers all over the world talk to each other. It was first developed by the U.S. Army, and later, it was used as a research support system by other organizations.
The terms “Internet” and “Web” are often used interchangeably, although this is not really correct. The World Wide Web (or just the Web) is actually one special area of the Internet. Other areas include newsgroups, mailing lists, and chat. The Web the information system of the twenty-first century is based on links, which make it possible for Web users to travel quickly from one Web server to another. The Web allows you to make pages with beautiful graphics and multimedia, while other areas of the Internet do not.
The Internet is great since it brings together the best qualities of the communications systems that were used before and, at the same time, improves on their worst features:
• Postal mail (known as snail mail on the Net): Takes at least a day_often a week_to get to its destination, and you must have envelopes and stamps, and find a mailbox. E-mail is quicker to compose, arrives faster, and does not require a stamp.
• The fax machine: It is hard to attach a fax into another document or to pass it on to someone else. Faxes of faxes of faxes become unreadable. E-mail stays readable no matter how many times it is forwarded.
• The public library: You have to go to the library to find information, and half the time the book you want is taken out or missing. By the time information gets into the library, it is often out of date. The Internet is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and you do not have to go to the library.
• The newspaper: Most newspapers come out only once a day and they decide what news you get to see and what comments to put on it. On the World Wide Web, news is updated continuously and you decide what to read.
The Internet also provides these basic services:
• Electronic mail, or e-mail
• Access to the World Wide Web
• Mailing lists
• File transfers from other computers
• The ability to log on to other computers
• Discussions with other people using chat
• Finding jobs
• Online shopping
• Searching catalogs
• Internet radio and TV
• Video conferencing
• Distance education
No one really knows what the Net will be like in ten years although one thing is for sure: We will not think of it as a single thing. Different parts of the Net have already developed their own features. No one knows all the details about it.
The Internet will not take a lot of your time. Reading your e-mail can take just 15 minutes per day. But be careful: The Internet can be addictive! You do not have enough hours in a day to keep up with all of it.