Over the last few years, information technology's impact on society has become a hot topic. It is clear that in the coming decades information and communication technologies (ICT or IT) will affect and reshape most parts of our society.
It will come to radically influence the global economy, and, to an unknown degree, our culture and the way we perceive the world, our relationship to it, and our actions.
Although ICT will have an enormous effect on tomorrow's society, surprisingly little research has been conducted regarding its future environmental consequences. Most of the work that has been done has reached one of two opposing conclusions: either ICT will bring only good things, from solutions to world hunger, the elimination of all transportation problems and a revitalised democracy.
Or it will bring nothing but problems, accelerating resource consumption, introducing new toxic materials and resulting in greater inequity by introducing a digital divide that will worsen the already unequal distribution of wealth and influence.
Go beyond these polarised perspectives
The first challenge, if we want to tackle the challenges surrounding ICT for the future, is to go beyond these polarised perspectives.
ICT is a tool that constitutes a new infrastructure, changing the way our societies function, while its technical applications will give us totally new opportunities to both preserve the best elements of our society, and develop new and better solutions to our existing problems.
As a whole, ICT is best viewed as a catalyst that can speed up current negative trends, or alternatively contribute to a shift towards sustainable development.
No one knows specifically what role it will play in the future, but we know that it will be significant and that our decisions today will influence the direction in which it will develop tomorrow.