Box 44 The downside of ICTs

While it is generally agreed that the net effect of information and communication technologies (ICTs) on reducing poverty and hunger, enhancing education and gender equality, and improving health and environmental sustainability is positive, ICTs do have their downsides.

In the area of health, for example, there have been numerous allegations over the years about the dangers of excessive use of ICTs. Electromagnetic fields from antennas and mobile phones are alleged to emit radiation that can cause cancer and other illnesses.6 Other studies have shown links between extensive computer use and physical ailments such as poor eyesight due to flickering and reflection on the screen and muscular pain caused by static and poor posture. Excessive movement of the wrist and hand have been said to lead to inflammation of the tendon and carpal tunnel syndrome.7 Another modern-day illness related to increased use of computers and the Internet is infostress related to an overwhelming load of information.8 Excessive use of modern ICTs can even be deadly. In the Republic of Korea, where online game addiction has become a serious problem, a teenager died at his terminal in an Internet café after three days of continuous playing.

Also with regard to health, while the Internet has afforded greater public information and autonomy in understanding health matters, not all the information available on the Internet is reliable. The danger is that false or misleading information may be harmful to those seeking to diagnose and treat themselves, or even to treat others.9 Similarly, the growing amount of spam, viruses and hacking incidents are not only bad for the constructive benefits of ICTs and an inconvenience to users, but can also have serious safety consequences.

While there has been much talk about e-government, e-education, and e-health, e-waste is perhaps a less-documented, but increasingly distressing area of concern. Rapidly expanding

ICT diffusion and more computers brings with it new environmental and related health problems. The number of worldwide PCs in use has doubled, from 288 million units in 1997 to 584 in 2002. With the average life span of a computer constantly shrinking, the number of obsolete PCs is increasing.10 ICT devices such as computers, scanners and screens are made with lead, arsenic, hexavalent chromium and other toxins. Only some parts are recyclable and toxic waste can leach into groundwater and pose serious health hazards. In the US state of California alone it is estimated that some 7.4 million Cathode Ray Tubes (CRTs) from televisions and computer monitors became obsolete in 2002.11 This figure is projected to rise to 12 million by 2006. Even under the most optimistic recycling assumptions, some four million CRTs will still be dumped in the garbage by 2006 (Box Figure 4.4, left). Particularly distressing and working against achieving the MDGs is the fact that some e-waste, instead of being recycled, is simply exported from rich to poor nations. According to studies, in 2002 over 50 per cent of the United States' e-waste was shipped to developing countries where environmental regulations are weak or non-existent.12

On a social level, ICTs can also exacerbate existing inequalities. Access to ICTs remains largely a function of affordability in many countries, with the risk that existing inequalities are reinforced or exacerbated. Indeed, an analysis of the digital divide between, but also within, countries shows that those with higher incomes are the biggest users of the Internet (Box Figure 4.4, right). Telework and ICT-based distance training have been cited as major opportunities for women to work or be educated from home and thus increase gender equality. Sceptics might argue that these online replacements keep women at home, reinforcing existing barriers to equality.

Only a clear understanding of these issues can help limit the negative effects of ICTs. Identifying hazards, designing indicators and collecting data must be part of this undertaking.

0 0

Post a comment