The change from atoms to bits is irrevocable and unstoppable … Computing is not about computers any more. It is about living.
As more information is represented digitally, human-computer interaction (HCI) broadly defined, becomes more central to information science.
In this chapter, we will give an overview of the information technologies which underlie the information sciences, and some of the more important application areas. This is obviously a very wide area, and whole books are written about many of the topics within it. We shall attempt no more than to mention and briefly discuss each of the topics within this area and give references to where more details can be found. Our aim is simply to give an overall picture of what technologies are important to the information scientist and how they relate to one another. Many readers will be familiar with much of this material and we ask them to consider this a refresher course.
We will look initially at the nature of technology generally, and information technology in particular, setting the scene for what follows. We will then examine the nature of digital computers and their software systems, the networks which connect them, some of the new physical forms they are taking, and some ideas of the future of computing. We will cover the ways in which people interact with computers, and the ways in which IT systems are envisaged and designed. Finally we consider some of the important applications – particularly information retrieval and digital libraries – showing how they can be understood as following and facilitating the communication chain.
What are information technologies?
‘Technology’, from the Greek techné, meaning art, skill or craft, is usually taken to mean the understanding of how to use tools, in the broadest sense of the word. The term information technology was first used in the 1950s, to describe the application of mechanized documentation and the new digital computers, but it came to be widely used in the 1980s to describe the much wider spread use of computers, particularly the first personal computers, and of the computer networks which pre-dated the internet.