Emeagwali was interviewed by e-mail in May 1997 by Toriano Boynton
(firstname.lastname@example.org) for his forthcoming book about the impact of
technology on African-Americans. Boynton wrote:
I am a freelance journalist working on a book about the impact of
technology on African-Americans from a sociocultural perspective. In the
research process, I came across your name and your impressive biography.
I was wondering if I could speak to you over the phone regarding this
issue and perhaps you could give me some helpful insight. I would like
for you to comment specifically on the following concepts:
How would you evaluate the current state
of computer technology as
it relates to African-American culture. Are we embracing the technology
or hiding from it?
An African-American is three or four
times less likely to be using a computer to retrieve information
from the World Wide Web than a white American. In this Information Age where
most information would only be available through the Internet, having a computer at
home and work is as essential as having a telephone.
Schools with a large number of African-Americans tend to have
outdated computers and software,
broken laboratory equipments and slim budgets.
The significance of the lack of access is that it is technology that creates wealth
which, in turn, means that the socio-economic gap between white and black America could widen in the
Unfortunately, we spent more time discussing Ebonics or
acquiring gold jewelry, Hilfiger t-shirts, Nike shoes, and Lexus cars
instead of accessing vital information at websites and
insisting that our kids turn off the TV, do their homework and
and read one book a day which, in turn, will empower us as
To answer your original question, yes, we are hiding from
What are some real
implications of computer
technology on the everyday
lives of African-Americans?
overrepresented in those unskilled jobs that will eventually
be replaced with workers with computer skills. Many African-Americans
are employed in clerical positions in the banking, accounting and insurance
industries and these jobs will soon become obsolete. For
these reasons, computer-based
technologies will have a greater impact on the lives of African-Americans than on any other
Computers connected to the Internet would become a major communication tools for sending e-mail and
voice messages. African-Americans with access to the Internet will
spend less time watching television and reading newspapers and magazines
because a wider variety of news can be
obtained on the Internet.
African-Americans will spend less time on long-distance
telephone calls because the Internet can be used to send e-mail, voice messages and conduct
African-American youths will spend less time sleeping as they become obssessed with
chatting over the Internet with other teenagers.
Christmas shopping will be done over the Internet.
African-Americans do in order
to embrace the technology.
Are there any solutions to get
more of us involved?
The Congressional Black Caucus should sponsor a bill to provide job training and
financial assistance to displaced workers.
African-Americans who desire high-skilled and higher-paying jobs
should make themselves more attractive to employers by taking several computer courses
at universities and using computers on a daily basis
African-American families should invest in their future by
replacing TVs with PCs.
Is it necessary for
African-Americans to embrace
computer technology. If so,
why? If not, why?
used for computing (word
telecommunication (email to
grandma or visiting Web sites).
Using the computer to access
information, news and
entertainment is analogous to
using the television to access
news and entertainment. The
difference is that the computer
allows us to access more useful
information than the television.
The primary reason is that a few
dozens television stations broadcast information to your television. But with the
computer, you can send and receive information to and from a billion websites
and email addresses. Information on the Internet is decentralized while that
from the television network is centralized.
My personal Web site emeagwali.com is my personal webcasting
station. I broadcast my wedding photos, my inventions and discoveries and my
lectures. In the future, it might become a requirement that every individual own
What does the future of the computer age hold for African-Americans?
African-Americans have less access to computers and Internet than
white Americans. A group that do not have equal access to educational opportunities will
lag behind the more priveleged group. Similarly, minority access to the Internet
will create a "digital apartheid" that will keep them on the lower end of socio-economic ladder.
The problem can only be solved by a change of governmental policies, entrepreneural
efforts and investment capital. We have to create computer and Internet training centers in the less
affluent communities. We have to have all schools, libraries, homes and offices wired to the
Since computers and the Internet are the physical infrastructure of
the the Information Age, we expect it to be as ubiquitous as electricity.
We now live in a global village and we have left the agricultural
and industrial ages and are now entering the information age. We picked cottons during the
agricultural age and rode in separate buses during the industrial age. We have to
ensure that our children are not eating the crumbs from the dinner table of the
information age. We must shift from only consuming technology to pioneering and producing it.
Are computers compatible with African-American norms, values and
cultural practices? <---communalism vs. individualism?
The Internet is more decentralized and has a lower entry barrier
than newspaper, radio and television. Two hundred dollars a year is what it takes to maintain a Web site and one thousand dollars
can purchase a personal computer. Therefore, the Internet provides greater
opportunities to African Americans. I am speaking from first hand experience. I realized the
power of the Internet in the mid-1970s and focused
my academic research in that field. Today, I become more known than scientists
who laughed at
my projects. I believe that adopting and embracing a new technology gives one an edge over
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