As Technology Changes, So Must African American Business

I can still hear the snickers and suppressed laughter when I first mentioned the word tweet in a business context. Fast-forward three years and those critics are now some of the most prolific users of social media. None of them could have imagined that in such a short period, they would, with the help of tools such as Twitter, Facebook, and Foursquare, literally change their fortunes. As Apple Inc. released the iPad and Google had us waving and buzzing, friends and colleagues have transformed themselves from social networking butterflies to social media strategists.

But I recognize that there is much more to African American success than proficiency in social media. As we celebrate our 40th year, we at black enterprise cannot deny that technology has fundamentally changed our very own business model. Like many others, we are in the midst of a dramatic struggle not merely to survive but to thrive for the next 40 years by embracing technology. To quote my favorite tech sage, “Resistance is futile.”

It would be far too easy for me to simply tell you, dear reader, what we MUST do. The real question is: Are we willing to engage, learn, and create—not simply consume technology?

In May, President Barack Obama, the “technology president,” created a furor in his commencement address at Hampton University, when he warned against the “distractions” that come with this new age. Telling students: “information becomes a distraction, a diversion, a form of entertainment, rather than a tool of empowerment,” the president drew criticism, particularly from those who had watched him deftly use social media during the 2008 election.

But President Obama was, to some extent, right to issue that warning. We should place less emphasis on being entertained and celebrating our consumerism. Yes, we have great buying power, but we also have incredible stores of innovation that we have yet to tap.

In the May 2010 issue, be profiled Beat Kangz, whose hardware and software innovations are set to change the way we create hip-hop. While Sean R. Scott, founder and CEO of New Jersey-based SoulRealIS L.L.C., has developed an Internet platform, GameDevMasters, for outsourcing video game development, one of the leading growth areas in technology, he says.

And this looks only to increase. Microsoft recently unveiled its much-anticipated Kinect, a hands-free motion control system that promises to push game development ever further. This isn’t just about video games, however, but rather, about the implications that motion-controlled technology holds for other spaces, such as education, medicine, and military.

No one really knows where all of this is headed. That’s the beauty—and the frustration—of living in a tech world. Forty years ago, we dreamt of smart phones, labor-saving robots, and convergence devices. Today, all that, and more than we could have ever imagined has been realized. The real question, then, isn’t “where will technology take us,” but rather, “where do we want to go?” What brave new worlds will we encounter with technology?

Sonya A. Donaldson is BE’s editor-at-large.

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