ICTs and improving road safety

It’s 17 May 2013, and today we celebrate World Telecommunication and Information Society Day (WTISD). The purpose of the day, according to the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) website, is “to help raise awareness of the possibilities that the use of the Internet and other information and communication technologies (ICT) can bring to societies and economies, as well as of ways to bridge the digital divide.”

The date of 17 May was chosen because it marks the date of the signing of the first International Telegraph Convention in 1865, and the creation of the ITU. Initially the day was only known as World Telecommunications Day (it was celebrated annually since 1969). In November 2005, the World Summit on the Information Society called on the UN General Assembly to declare 17 May as World Information Society Day, “to focus on the importance of ICT and the wide range of issues related to the Information Society raised by WSIS.” In November 2006, at the ITU Conference in Turkey, it was decided to combine the above two events into a single World Telecommunication and Information Society Day.

Every year, WTISD promotes a specific theme, an area where telecommunications and ICT has a significant impact, or potential for significant impact, on society. For 2013, the theme is “ICTs and improving road safety.”

According to a report by the UN’s Road Safety Collaboration, 1.3 million people die annually in traffic-related accidents, with another 20-50 million injured. Considering the medical costs involved, as well as costs of work-loss etc, traffic accidents clearly have a huge impact on economies globally.

The impact of telecommunications and ICT on road safety is immense. Sadly, it is not all positive. (© All Rights Reserved)
The impact of telecommunications and ICT on road safety is immense. Sadly, it is not all positive.
(© All Rights Reserved)

The impact of ICT and telecommunications on road safety can be viewed from two sides. On the positive side, improved connectivity has a positive impact in terms of placing road users in contact with emergency services and road side assistance. Ever-increasing accessibility of maps and navigation services through smartphones etc can also improve safety on the road. Increasingly sophisticated traffic management systems have the potential to positively impact on traffic safety, and at the high end of technology, intelligent driver assist systems is another domain where ICT in particular has a huge potential role to play.

On the downside, however, driver distraction and road-user behaviour, including texting and interfacing with navigation and other communications systems while driving, count among the leading contributors to traffic-related accidents. And it is not only distracted drivers that cause problems – texting pedestrians represent an equally big risk, putting themselves and other road users in danger. The challenge in addressing these dangers is, of course, more educational than technical – it is all about educating all road users about the dangers of being distracted by personal communication systems while using the road.

So while today is a day to celebrate the amazing technological contribution ICT has made to improved road safety, it is also a day to remind ourselves of the terrible tragedies that have followed from the injudicious and inconsiderate use of mobile phones, GPS systems, etc while engaged in road usage.

Be safe, everyone.

Luv or h8 it, txting is gr8 4 literacy

Today, 8 September, is International Literacy Day – the day the world’s attention is focused on literacy as one of the fundamental human rights, and the foundation of all learning. In the words of UNESCO Director General Irina Bokova, “Education brings sustainability to all the development goals, and literacy is the foundation of all learning. It provides individuals with the skills to understand the world and shape it, to participate in democratic processes and have a voice, and also to strengthen their cultural identity.”

In the information age, literacy is a more critical basic requirement than ever. The literacy landscape is also rapidly changing – children’s reading and writing experience is changing from a paper-based to a digital context. Many kids’ primary exposure to the written word is through texting – SMS, instant messaging and Twitter – thanks to the global proliferation of mobile phones and internet connectivity.

Texting teens may have a literacy edge over their non-texting peers.
(© All Rights Reserved)

Texting has long been blamed for being one of the main causes of decreasing linguistic savvy among children and teenagers, with parents and teachers fearing that texting shorthand (incorporating linguistic shortcuts, weak grammar and little or no punctuation) was destroying their ability to write ‘properly’.

While it’s true that these teenage ‘textisms’ drive most people over thirty up the proverbial wall, it may in fact not be quite the scourge it was thought to be at the turn of the century. New research is showing that, while it may not promote perfect grammar, text messaging may in fact have a positive impact on basic literacy. For one thing, there is no arguing that it is increasing young people’s level of interaction with the written word. Instead of speaking, kids are very likely to communicate via text messages, even when they are in the same physical location.

As reported in an article in the Telegraph, researchers are suggesting that using a mobile phone can boost children’s spelling abilities. In a research project at Coventry University in the UK, 114 children aged 9-10, who were not already mobile phone users, were split into two groups. Half were given handsets and encouraged to text often, while the control group remained without mobile phones. After 10 weeks, both groups were subjected to a series of reading, spelling and phonological awareness tests, and the researchers claimed they found that texting made a significant positive contribution to to children’s spelling development during the study. According to Professor Clare Wood of the university’s Psychology Department, they also found “no evidence that children’s language play when using mobile phones is damaging literacy development.”

Similar sentiments have been expressed by Professor David Crystal, honorary professor of linguistics at Bangor University, who says it’s an urban myth that text speech are taking over childrens’ regular writing. He considers it “merely another way to use language”, and suggests that the use of textisms and shortcuts is exaggerated: “If you collected a huge pile of messages and counted all the whole words and the abbreviations, the fact of the matter is that less than 10% would be shortened.”

So, while language may be changing in the age of texting, the undeniably positive part is that it is exposing children to the written word, in both the traditional and the abbreviated sense.

And that, as they say in the classics, is gr8 4 literacy.