Thursday, June 4, 2009

My Two Lives - Trials and Tribulations of being Black and Technical

crossposted from my african diaspora Written by EB

I’ve written about it before, but when the topic rears its ugly head again, I feel compelled to whine…again.

I live in two worlds: one online and predominately white and one offline and predominately black. Technology has been a part of my life since I saw and consequently fell in love with my first computer in middle school. The black screen on the old Radio Shack computer called to me in a way that only books had previously. I wrote my first program - my name scrolling across the screen in white letters. I was hooked.

That path led me down the road to a long career in technology, working for someone else before launching my business with my partner (of course, I still read voraciously and write). Through the years, my network of contacts online have guided me through Windows blue screens of death, more hardware/software upgrades and conflicts than I care to remember, and more recently, the adoption of the Linux way of life. Since I can see most of them via their avatars or pics (no, I generally don’t post one), I know they don’t look like me. Yet in this tight knit community, we chat, help each other through our various technical conundrums, seemingly available at all hours of the day and night. These people I’ve never met in person and probably never will.

My other life is full of family and friends - mostly people who look like me. This group probably knows how to send email - and some, rarely use this nifty tool. I love this group, yet they frustrate me. It seems that technology is an afterthought, an annoyance, something to use only when they have to. “I use a computer at work,” they say. “I don’t want to see one when I get home.” In a recent meeting, where we discussed preparing a member directory for our group, I of course suggested this must be done electronically, to which someone immediately replied, “But everyone doesn’t have access to a computer.” I wanted to cry. I mumbled and stumbled through an angry response, one I’m sure people either didn’t get or resented. (note to self, do remember not to speak in anger, think first). You see, in my other life, the one spent online, this would be akin to someone saying they still used a circa 1988, IBM PS/2 for their primary development box.

Let me be clear - I’m in no way implying that all African Americans despise technology. But what I am saying is that far too many of us are lagging behind. And I fear that if we don’t catch up, we’ll once again be left behind.

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