Making Information Technology a Compelling Read
One of the biggest challenges of writing about information technology is making the subject matter compelling for lay audiences. Having written for technical and business publications in the past, I have grown accustomed to using jargon and assuming my readers are well grounded in information technology. For readers uninterested in details about the latest version of Netscape or the newest Palm Pilot, jargon and assuming deep familiarity of technology has limited appeal. What has made sense for the general academic audience is capturing and dramatizing the social change that results when people adapt new technologies in their work and personal lives.
Over the past year, my goal in writing for the TechTalk section in Black Issues has focused less on discussing the latest gadget or software than on locating stories that reveal the social impact of rapid technology change. The annual “digital divide” issue has provided the Black Issues family ample opportunity to weigh in with what we believe are thought-provoking stories about the push by minority institutions and individuals to bridge the digital divide.
Kendra Hamilton has written, with insight, an engaging story on the recent progress of the HBCU community to address what many feel represents a digital divide in higher education. Over the past year, Black Issues has begun to witness the rise of individuals from HBCU schools who are not only providing leadership for their home campuses but for all minority-serving institutions. Individuals, such as Debra White at Hampton University, Johnson C. Smith University’s president Dr. Dorothy Cowser Yancy and Tennessee State University president Dr. James Hefner, are helping to establish “best practices” at their schools.
Hamilton also explores the unfortunate comment by Michael Powell, the newly appointed chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, comparing the “digital divide” to a “Mercedes divide,” a reference to his current inability to purchase an expensive Mercedes automobile. It seems that Powell, the son of General Colin Powell, would be capable of exercising more sensitivity rather than being so cavalier about a complex issue.
Spending time with B. Keith Fulton, a high-ranking African American executive with the AOL Time Warner Foundation and corporation, allowed Black Issues to learn about his company’s ambitious plans to help bridge the digital divide. Many of you who have followed civil rights organizations should recall that Fulton served for several years as the National Urban League’s top official on information technology programs and policy.
Although he marks his first year at AOL in April, Fulton’s knowledge of information technology and the Black community is already helping pay dividends in the form of AOL foundation support for a series of digital divide meetings led by Tennessee State University.
In my reporting, I have focused on Silicon Valley and the efforts of African American professors, students and professionals to lobby policymakers and executives on the need to target recruiting and new training resources toward African Americans and Latinos.
Minority professionals and academics have grown impatient with Silicon Valley companies who have successfully pushed federal lawmakers to pass expansions in the H-1B temporary work visa program. The companies say they need to import skilled workers from abroad, but minorities want the firms to concentrate more on recruiting Black and Latino professionals who are U.S. natives.
It seems that serious leadership is emerging around the digital divide issue in the United States. While the examples of college presidents and top administrators receive special focus in this issue, we have also tried to focus on leadership coming from the faculty and student ranks. In future editions, Black Issues will continue to spotlight this emerging leadership. We hope that we have made a good start in this edition.
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