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Ever since the dawn of civilization, knowledge has been power. If you knew how to count, you could understand more than others. This still applies today. If you know more than another, you will have more power. Computers in the modern world are the main source of knowledge. From a simple calculator to the most powerful supercomputer, computers give man an edge over his/her rivals.
Technology is all about being one step ahead of others. Being able to do advanced math before your opponents allows you to gain a strategic advantage in corporate competition or global politics. Supercomputers can compute missile trajectories while at the same time can be used to look for oil. The movie Hackers takes that into account when it refers to Gibson supercomputers being used to search for oil. You can analyze billions of pieces of data for a certain pattern and return the results in a comparatively short amount of time. Even though not everyone has a super computer, the ability to analyze large amounts of data is still there. Groups like SETI@HOME use thousands of computers at once to search for life elsewhere in the universe. This just shows how many applications a large amount of computing power has.
I have been around computers my entire life almost. During the early days of MS-DOS, I was using a program called “Alpine Tram Ride.” Like all the other games I got latter on, this was educational. To tell you the truth I can’t even remember the game and what it taught, yet I do remember the fact that I did use it a lot and that it was helpful. Other programs taught math or geography. This was the beginning of computers in education at home. Today you can get courses on CD or be schooled over the internet. Home schooling would have been more difficult before computers. Computers increased one’s ability to teach him/herself. They have even created new fields of study such as Artificial Intelligence or the best field of all…Computer Programming in Perl taught by Dmitriy Genzel. =) These classes then spread into fields like engineering where users can use programs like AutoCAD and design things (I don’t know much about CAD programs so don’t know how or what they design).
Computers have entered right into the classroom. If you use a calculator…that is a computer. Also programs like Excel (or other graphing programs) can allow you to graph certain functions that would be hard to do by hand.
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Small companies are now using computers to offer more. You can enter a store and use one of their computers to look at a digital catalog or design your own personal computer or whatnot. They can then digitize all their records and back them up on disk so then they can be more efficient. If the need to find a record…they are just one quick search away from it. Tax records, or any record of sale going years back can be on demand. While a large company would have more paperwork to keep up with, they could always just hire more people. A small company is limited and thus computers have been a life saver for them.
Similarly, people at home can just run Quicken to log their tax records. What once would take careful record keeping and a large amount of time, now can be done with ease by people in their off time. You no longer need to be a tax expert to manage your taxes. You can even pay them online now.
One of the big changes on society is that many members of society relate their entire lives to computers. I myself spend most of time in front of a computer screen. This makes it so some people have fewer activities than others. One’s whole life can be contained simply within a hard drive.
Computers have also created the hacker sub culture. It is a very strange culture. While most movies overdo this sub culture…when it comes to online activities, there is a major difference. Major movies like Hackers or Swordfish revolve around hackers. I myself know some people that hack, yet they do not hack sites or anything. All they do is hack each others computers creating what they call a “war game.” They then follow their own set of rules and have someone to enforce those rules. This takes the evil act of hacking and makes it a game to see if one can do it or not. Kevin Mitnick was the type person that did not hack for money or anything, yet did hack for the reason “I just gotta know.” Too bad for him Tsutomu Shimomura was able to track him down. While some people think that hacking is only about the internet, it is not. There is something called cracking and that can be either internet or software based. People will crack programs either for their own need or to help others (at least in their mind). Sometimes they crack programs just so they can see the code to satisfy their own curiosity.
While computers have had a large impact on society, the internet has had a global impact. Bringing people together solve problems or to make money. All of this though is based on computers so still acts upon the already altered society. Thanks to computers, society will never be the same.