Technology: Good or bad?


BY JOANNE LIM

TECHNOLOGY is a two-edged sword – a wonderful tool in the right hands but a potential weapon of destruction in the wrong. Just as limitless information is at our fingertips via the Internet, so is pornography within easy reach of the young. 

Likewise, the ubiquitous mobile phone has become both a necessity and a bane; and the SMS has created a new language of convenience that has its drawbacks.  

“Human beings are always finding bad things to do with good technology,” says Multimedia University (MMU) head of IT management department Saravanan Muthaiyah. 

”Rather than enriching the quality of life, people are coming up with ways of using technology to create a negative impact on society,” he adds. 

Saravanan's presentation on the misuse of technology in education was among various issues discussed at a one-day colloquium and exhibition, Comm Fest 2004, held at Universiti Teknologi Mara (UiTM) on Feb 4. Themed ICT Milestones and Communication Education, the event's objective was to identify problems resulting from the misuse of new communication and multimedia services, and find ways to overcome them. 

Citing a positive example of how technology could be used in the classroom, he says: “In Singapore, students SMS questions to their teachers when they are too shy to bring them up in a classroom, especially if they're related to sex education – and they can receive an answer directly without being embarrassed.” 

On the other hand, new technology allows students with camera phones to take indiscreet pictures of their classmates and then broadcast them to others in school and across the world via the multimedia messaging service (MMS). 

In a similar way, the Internet is being used for fraud, mail bombs, breach of intellectual property, junk mail, spam and a host of creative misdeeds. 

UiTM Faculty of Communication and Media Studies dean, Assoc Prof Illias Salleh, who chaired the discussion, says steps should be taken to prevent technology from having a negative impact on society. The panel also comprised industry professionals from the Malaysian Communication and Multimedia Commission (MCMC), Celcom (M) Sdn Bhd, and Communications and Multimedia Consumer Forum of Malaysia (CfM). 

Prof. Dato' Dr. Ahmad Zainuddin (second from left) with Associate Prof Ilias Salleh and Mr Chelvakumar on his left at the launching ceremony

With the advent of ICT in the country's education system, that is, the use of notebook computers and LCD projectors in schools, there is a need to address issues related to the rapid growth of technology and their implications on society.  

“Be committed to fully utilise these new technologies but only in the way they were intended for use,” says Assoc Prof Illias at the event organised by the Institute of Public Relations Malaysia Student Association (IPRMSA), UiTM chapter, Faculty of Communication and Media Studies, in collaboration with CfM. 

It attracted over 500 participants from institutions of higher learning, industry professionals and members of related consumer organisations across the country.  

Emphasising the importance of using the Internet positively, Saravanan says parents should install web-filtering programmes such as CyberNanny to keep children away from pornographic websites. “But children are even smarter – they simply uninstall the programme.”  

The MSC Bill of Guarantee initiated by the Government does not allow censoring of web content. “So illicit materials cannot be censored – it's a free world out there.” 

However, there is a Data Protection Bill which protects users from being victimised by Internet crimes.  

“The Government is trying to educate the public on how to use the Internet positively. Cyber crimes are becoming rampant, especially in Malaysia,” says Saravanan, who heads a major project funded by the Energy Communications and Multimedia Ministry entitled Positive Use of the Internet

Statistics show an alarming rate of negative Internet usage in the country. Last year, 449 cases of virus, 260 cases of cyber stalking, and 20 cases of fraud were reported. 

How do most students do their assignments today? Almost 70% of their work is a product of copying and pasting from websites, says Saravanan. 

And what happens when they do badly in an examination? “It's as simple as hacking into the system and changing their own grades.”  

While it took radio and television 38 and 13 years, respectively, to reach a market of 50 million people, Internet did it in just four years, “which explains the rise of its negative usage,” says Saravanan, adding that there are over 840 million “Netizens (citizens of the Internet) worldwide. 

With so many threats, security on the Internet is a major issue – probably why many are still afraid of using the Internet as a medium for transaction, whether for e-banking or online purchases, even when it is free of charge.  

“They are worried about fraud, that their privacy will be violated, deliberately or accidentally: 'What if my personal information gets stolen by a third party?' It's too risky.” 

Saravanan highlights seven steps in using the Internet positively, which includes cultivating a general appreciation and knowledge of what the Internet is and what it can do for the user and identifying factors involved in creating a positive environment for using the Internet within the home or office.  

“At some companies, any employee found with pornographic pictures in the hard disk can be sacked within 24 hours. That's how serious punishment should be if we want to alleviate problems dealing with misuse of the Internet.” 

Vice-chairman of CfM and Federation of Malaysian Consumers Associations (Fomca) deputy president Muhammad Sha'ani Abdullah says the organisation receives complaints from academics about students using SMS language to answer major examination questions, especially in the Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM). 

“A taskforce committee will be set up by CfM to look into the problem of SMS language being used in written work in school. If SMS language is not allowed in monthly exams, students will realise they cannot use it in the SPM,” adds Muhammad Sha'ani. 

UiTM's deputy vice-chancellor of academic affairs Datuk Prof Dr Ahmad Zainuddin says several key areas need to be looked at, including the influence of technology in the teaching and learning of a particular subject and setting. 

“The information and communication revolution is still in its infancy and the untapped potential of ICT is a serious matter for all of us.  

“This encompasses diverse disciplinary, conceptual and methodological perspectives, for example, research in mediating instructional communication with technology,” adds Dr Ahmad. 

At the colloquium, MCMC manager Laila Hassan used the platform to highlight the implementation of 3G (third generation) in Malaysia, including its opportunities and challenges, while Celcom (M) Sdn Bhd product and services innovation division senior manager Faizal Ismail presented an overview of the mobile phone industry and the relevance of its new services (MMS, SMS and others).  

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