Tuesday, 06 October 2015 07:58

Technology 1.0

Agustina Woodgate 5 AutoBody Radioee.netbove: Radio Espacio Estacion online radio transmission in Miami, Florida. Augustina Woodgate; Photo by Monica McGivern


Technology 1.0

For the past 26 years, NALAC has had the immense benefit of learning from our vast and growing network of Latin@ artists as well as our incredibly dedicated Latin@ arts and cultural organizations. It’s a type of learning that includes the advancements we’ve made together, that includes the challenges we share, and it also includes the ways we (ourselves) engage to fulfill our respective work. A key change during this time has been an increased reliance on digital technologies to meet our goals as artists, arts administrators, social activists, and culture bearers. So that regardless of what types of artwork we create, or what kinds of organizations and institutions we’re affiliated with, or even what our cultural and political affinities may be, the field of activity we casually refer to as the Tech Industry plays a huge role in how we go about the work that we do. Along those very lines, and because of its prevalence, we can easily begin to interpret our use of any particular kind of technology as an endorsement of that particular kind of technology, which changes our relation to the tools we usually work with by revealing that relationship to be much more complex and intertwined. So much so that NALAC believes it is important to strategically look at and begin to thoughtfully ask: what are the ways in which the field of technology supports the production of Latin@ arts and culture?

There has indeed been a lot of talk lately about the overall field of technology, which is good, because it helps lend clarity to what kinds of roles it plays in our communities, that is, beyond our own use of particular devices, services, and purchasing trends related to the extensive content made available through our mainly portable devices. Here’s where conversations over the digital divide, which is quite real, can help frame things a little better.

For example, by the time that the Pew Research Center released its report on Closing the Digital Divide: Latinos and Technology Adoption back in March of 2013, it had become evident “Latinos own smartphones, go online from a mobile device and use social networking sites at similar—and sometimes higher—rates than do other groups of Americans, according to a new analysis of three surveys.” Amongst a range of interesting findings, the report indicated a decreasing digital divide among Latin@s along ;with a significant increase in cellphone ownership and offered that “when it comes to owning a smartphone, going online from a mobile device and using social networking sites, Latinos are just as connected as other Americans.” But we risk a one-sided view of the whole picture if we look mainly at our activities as consumers or absorbers of a given industry.

Towards the end of last year, Maria Teresa Kumar, President of Voto Latino, released the article Why there aren’t more Latinos in the tech industry and it centered on a discouraging statistic: “currently only 6% of all U.S. tech workers are African-American and 7% are Latino.” Ms. Kumar goes on to then stress our need of leveraging “technology to engage and empower Latino Millennials to find solutions to the most pressing issues facing Latino communities” and that “although Latino high school graduates entered college in 2012 at a higher rate than their white counterparts, Latinos made up less than 9% of computer science and engineering college graduates in 2013.” Despite such lamentable statistics, we at NALAC feel it does present us with a goal to work towards where we can, for instance, foster our community’s usage or adoption of emerging technologies in ways that connect that experience and knowledge to viable educational and, consequently, professional careers.

Around that time, the Media, Diversity, & Social Change Initiative (MDSCI) at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism released a study indicating that film “characters from Hispanic/Latino backgrounds were the most underrepresented across the groups studied. Just 4.9 percent of characters were identified as Hispanic or Latino, despite representing 16.3 percent of the U.S. population and purchasing 25 percent of all movie tickets.” With this information in mind, things start to get a little more compelling and we are also then able to start broadening the lens through which we look at the industry a bit.

By the time Forbes published a revised report on employee demographic for fourteen of the largest tech companies on July of this year, See how the big tech companies compare on employee diversity, many of us felt that what was being described was something more than just a mere trend, and possibly a symptom. This was reiterated by an L.A. Times article at the end of August, Twitter's diversity plan: approximately 40 women, which announced how the social media company “plans to increase the number of underrepresented minorities in the U.S. from 10% to 11% overall, and from 7% to 9% in tech roles. It also wants to see the number of underrepresented minorities in leadership roles rise to 6%.”

Through this scenario, we can begin to forge some questions that can then most likely help us define our path towards a particular set of capacities, knowledge, and patterns which shed light on the current relation between Latin@ arts and the vast field of electronic technologies. The path itself will bifurcate or fork out into different areas that correspond with the various facets of cultural and artistic production within our communities, which is not surprising. The underlying idea, after all, is that for an unprecedented portion of our population electronic, online and digital technologies operate or play a vivid part in almost every aspect of daily life.  On one hand, this influences and helps situate our outward social being, meaning the parts of our 'selves' that give shape to a shared social fabric through interaction and participation out in the public domain. On the other hand, this also involves our private or inner being, that is, the part of us that works to identify and meet our own personal needs through self-care, regeneration or leisure.

The next curious feature has to do with the fact that no field of inquiry, manufacturing industry, or economic sector is completely self-generating and self-renewing. Today, more than ever, one should bear in mind the many ports of exchange and connectivity that exist between these areas and how technical innovation tends to emerge collaboratively and, furthermore, applied indiscriminately throughout this networked spectrum. Yet also, and perhaps more importantly, these areas of activity are produced and reproduced (sustained) by individuals who labor collectively to maintain a certain level of output. So that whether we are talking about a technological feature’s conception, pre-production, manufacturing, beta testing, distribution, or marketing –one is naturally inclined to ask: how do those processes include Latin@ creativity and encourage us to meet our social and personal goals?

For NALAC these are deeply relevant questions, capable of exploring how our community's imaginations are expressed more concretely. Obviously this first sketch is an attempt at direction, a task of orientation by not only staking out the parameters to help us survey this sprawling landscape, but to do so transparently, by sharing and making visible the assemblage of this process with our constituents as we move through towards clearer results.

An important step now would be to further clarify what we mean when we talk about the field of technology. Most notably it refers to a portion of our economy that consists of individual entrepreneurs and companies as well as multinational corporations which sustain a physical presence in many regions by way of retailers, business headquarters, as well as public and private institutional wings. In short, the Tech industry. Often included are INGOs (international nongovernmental organizations) that may have a fixed local presence along with more mobile iterations that emerge according to their mission or purpose. All of these, of course, are also physically present within our systems of governance as lobbyists or other special interest representatives. But again, these are some of the more tangible or brick-and-mortar ways that portions of this sector are present, and we really must also consider the more virtual ways by which the industry is known, such as internet service providers, software & programming companies, consumer electronics manufacturers, or online retailers to name a few.

And even though this early century we belong to can boast about radical innovations in nanotechnology and biotechnology, which do yield extraordinary cross-sector influence, it is the ongoing development of modes for processing and sharing information made possible by this particular Tech Industry that we’d like to focus on: Information  and Communication Technology (ICT). Largely due to the ever-diminishing scale of personal hardware like laptops and cellphones in conjunction with an ever-increasing mapping of fiber cables, pipelines, and towers, these broadly determine our communications at a more private, personal level -with immediate family, friends, and colleagues- as well as our communications at a public or institutional level -like governments, corporations, and educational systems.

The next phase could be for us to identify the ways our varying communities engage with ICTs beyond a user or consumer level. For NALAC to properly grasp the kinds of interface that already exist and –just as key- articulate those that do not yet exist but are nonetheless possible, our approach must include how Latin@s participate ;in or operate ICTs as producers. The first thing this means is, yes, to what degree are Latin@s present ;in the organizations that shape this industry and what are our functions within these organizations? At the same time, we must also ask ourselves: how do our communities continue to integrate evolving technologies in their artistic work, as cultural creators, as social activists, or as community or organizational leaders?

In a very clear manner, it’s the ubiquitous nature of a now globalized Tech Industry that requires us to be all the more savvy about how we position ourselves in relation to it. And it’s tricky because the output of this field –its devices, platforms, and its more translucent forms of social ordering- are already once-removed from our experiencing of it: when reading an article, streaming a video, or posting our status, it is the content of that activity we feel most affected by, while the medium that allows us access is there but just not at the center of our attention. Like a true peripheral, it takes one step to the side as it introduces us to the content. We surely miss our components when they’re not there though, as any of us who have either lost bars, left our phones behind, or had to replace gaming consoles or laptops know all too well.

In the end, the question persists: how can we look at our roles as effective participants and producers within this sprawling field we often abbreviate as Technology? We know the term Tech Field is a common shorthand for a complex sphere of economic, scientific, and cultural activity that appears to be always at the helm of our social engagement. Given that, it may be better for our purposes to simply ask: how is the Tech Industry supportive of Latin@ arts and cultures? It’s a big question, yes, because as an arena it is made up of different entities operating in different directions. But it’s also a big question because there are so many ways in which to support Latin@ arts and cultures. Besides, we shouldn’t be afraid to ask the big questions, the ones that we’re uncertain about phrasing, and even less certain about the territories they’ll lead us through. 



The National Association of Latino Arts and Cultures (NALAC) is a legacy organization investing in the Latino heritage of this nation. For over 25 years, NALAC has built a strong foundation for the promotion of Latino arts and culture and its advocacy efforts have advanced issues of cultural equity and raised the visibility and understanding of Latino artistic and cultural expression. The National Association of Latino Arts and Cultures (NALAC) is the nation's leading nonprofit organization exclusively dedicated to the promotion, advancement, development, and cultivation of the Latino arts field. In this capacity, NALAC stimulates and facilitates intergenerational dialogues among disciplines, languages, and traditional and contemporary expressions. NALAC serves thousands of Latino artists and hundreds of organizations representing a national and international community of multiple Latinidades; a network that crosses many cultures across the Latino Diaspora.

 For more information visit our website at www.nalac.org or like us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/Nalac.arts1..


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