Category Archives: technology

Black creatives should apply constant lobbying pressure on Congress…

The concern: Theft and appropriation ….

The internet has provided opportunities for black creatives to create music, art, film, and writings, and distribute these products all over the globe.  When I set up my first website over 20 year ago, it took an employee at a local print shop to drive home the point with me that I was no longer local, as my mailing address on my new letterhead would imply.  My web address and e-mail he pointed out now took me to another level.  I was now global.  To this day I am still amazed and humbled when I hear from someone in Eurasia or Africa who either needed legal advice, sought some business representation, or read a blog post.

For black creatives in particular the opportunity to share our art and culture and dispel myths about our people is equal to and probably outweighs (slightly) the potential to increase the income for doing what we are good at; for doing what we love.

Centuries of oppression, for being negatively targeted physically and economically because of who we are can manifest itself in anger when our art is appropriated by the majority culture without acknowledgment or compensation.  Ironically, it is that same majority culture that has no problem asserting that blacks have no culture while stealing and re-engineering the culture we have created for the purpose of communicating with and consoling ourselves.

I think this problem, of cultural appropriation, is not relegated to blacks in America alone.  To varying degrees this problem also occurs in other parts of the Diaspora, but because I have spent my entire adulthood in the U.S., I will speak to the impact raiding black culture has on black America.

My concern in the United States is that the sharing economy may seep itself into intellectual property developed and sold by black Americans via inappropriate legislation or the misapplication of current rules applied to copyright, patents, and trademarks.  Blacks in the U.S. need to be aware of the business model that has been emerging in technology and media over the last two decades: appropriating what is considered “public” information or data and re-engineering it for resale.

There is a faux libertarian attitude among many young liberals in media and tech that everything produced should be considered as part of some commons where anyone with the capital and technology can sweep in and extract.  This is the same attitude behind “net neutrality”, where large content aggregators want to transport exabytes of data over public broadband networks for free and if these content providers can’t get their way i.e. send millions of cat and twerker videos over these networks for free, they will then argue that the democratic rights of their subscribers are somehow being violated.  Networks as well as content provided by their subscribers are simply there for free extraction.

This same liberal view toward content, in my opinion, poses a threat to black creativity.  Black creatives in America who do not take action to push back against this attack will find themselves back in the chattel-like slavery of their ancestors.  Whereas their bodies were used for slave labor in the 16th, 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries, their intellectual property, their creativity, will suffer the same fate in the 21st century digital economy.

Taking the property rights approach ….

Blacks own between two to three percent of private capital in the United States.  Giving away our creativity would be tantamount to suicide.  Lobbying pressure should be maintained on the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, the U.S. Copyright Office, the U.S. Senate Sub-committee on Intellectual Property and the U.S. House Sub-committee on Courts, Intellectual Property, and the Internet.

Action cannot be reactive. It must be proactive.  Black creatives must take action to ensure that legislation is being monitored and where threats are trending, be prepared to draft and present legislation to members of these committees for their consideration.

As creatives we tend to live in our heads, but we must make the concerted effort to keep our third eye open and on the Administration and the Congress.

We own our thoughts. They are the last frontier…

A few days ago, a colleague and I had a brief conversation on colonization. How was it that the European was able to take over a large land mass and extract its natural and human resources so brutally and without effective resistance?  My colleague’s answer: “Once your mind is taken over, everything else falls.”

Thought, in my opinion, is the ultimate form of capital.  Every man-made construct around you emanates from it.  In a society so fixated on the physical act, it is easy to overlook the role of thought.  We don’t admit it, but we have relegated thought to the back burner, often times disparagingly.  “Instead of talking, why don’t you do something about it!” “Actions speak louder than words!”  Daphne, after all, caught more eyes than Velma.

The artificial physicality that western man has managed to lay all over significant portions of Earth have served, like Daphne, to distract us from more use of our cognitive or reflective skills.  Technology, innovation, the distraction economy, and ensuing and increased consumerism have eviscerated our capacity to think critically and severely reduced the time to sit down and reflect.

For example, I mentioned the distraction economy.  Social media companies have leveraged technology to extract more of the precious resource of time, contributing to changes in our ability to express ourselves in long form or our inability to pay attention for the extended period of time necessary for critical thinking.  We need more Velma time.

Distractions lay at the heart of colonizing the mind.  While social media has been taking a lot of heat lately for its use as a medium for spreading “fake news”, traditional media shares as much blame for creating narratives designed to sensationalize events and capture attention versus simply educating and creating a forum for outside-the-box thinking.

Protecting our “thought capital” from these growing incursions is especially necessary for blacks in America.  Blacks in America have little in terms of productive capital.  Blacks in America have more “creative capital.”  I won’t go through a laundry list here as to black contribution to the arts and entertainment.  I would like to see more recognition of black contribution to the development of applied sciences and how blacks are using applied sciences to directly impact their communities.

My more important point is that this creative capital cannot be further nurtured and leveraged for black consumption if our main engine, the mind and the thoughts that flow in and through it, are bombarded by distractions. In addition, we should support public policy that protects our intellectual property and artistic works as this “thought capital” becomes more important in a world that grows more dependent on knowledge.

We own our thoughts and should own the residuals that flow from them.  Our thoughts are the last and first frontier.

Capital. The true digital divide

A couple early morning thoughts on the digital divide.  So far the digital divide narrative has occupied two schools of thought that are not necessarily opposed to each other.

Race and the Digital Divide

The first school of thought revolves around race.  Given that within the black American community there is a higher level of poor households, affordability is keeping blacks from accessing the internet via high-speed broadband infrastructure.  If blacks do not have the income to sustain a broadband business model, then internet access providers are less likely to deploy facilities in poor neighborhoods.  Lack of deployment in these neighborhoods may result in a barrier to valuable information that may lead to greater economic opportunities, according to advocates seeking to close this gap.

Rural Communities and the Digital Divide

The second school of thought revolves around rural communities.  The argument is that lower population density as compared to urban areas makes deploying broadband access facilities in rural areas more expensive.  In addition, terrain, such as that faced by internet access providers in mountain states, has traditionally added to the problem of higher costs to provide broadband access facilities.

An Overlooked Divide

There is another divide, one that is often overlooked and it has to go to what is known as “first-mover advantage.” The real value generated by the internet is the ability to extract, analyze, package, and distribute information, and have that information be available digitally forever.  The focus on a gap between facilities deployed in black neighborhoods versus facilities deployed in white neighborhoods or the gap between rural community deployment versus urban community deployment goes to seeking out new suppliers of information.  The civil right veneer that has been placed over the broadband racial divide hides this supply-side characteristic from the policy debate.  It has also created the opportunity for the political left to craft an electoral package that can be sold to voters.

It is the other side of the equation, the production side, that, in my opinion holds more value.  When we look at the history of the internet, particularly the period when the internet was commercialized, its players included white venture capitalists; Web 1.0 internet service providers, i.e. AOL, CompuServ, Mindspring, etc.; and dial-up access providers such as BellSouth.

Black Americans could always access information from analog sources, i.e. television; print media; or word of mouth, but the efficient extraction, cataloging,  indexing, aggregation, and distribution of information via the internet were the domain of companies invested in and managed by whites.  As whites continued to level their first-mover advantage, this gap between producer/owner of capital and consumer continued to grow.

Capital not only seeks a vacuum, it also seeks a return.  Returns from investing in black or even rural communities were not going to be as high as returns invested in affluent neighborhoods, neighborhoods whose residents probably owned shares in the very companies that commercialized the internet in the first place.  Closing the “digital divide” means first closing the capital divide.

What will Government Do Next?

Government will do nothing from a capital perspective to close the digital divide. The Federal Communications Commission has a number of universal service funding initiatives designed to encourage mobile and fixed broadband deployment in rural areas; to facilitate the delivery of health care via broadband; and to reduce the costs incurred by low-income consumers for accessing and maintaining high-speed broadband service.  By subsidizing the consumer demand for broadband services, the Commission hopes to encourage the delivery of broadband services.  But again, the focus is on consumer demand, not bridging the capital gap.

The philosophical underpinnings of the American economy, where capital is to flow freely to its best use may prohibit government from taking any concrete action for closing a capital gap.  If blacks or rural residents had sufficient capital to purchase, construct, or maintain broadband access facilities, using their intimate knowledge of their communities to distribute services, we might see a decrease in the gap.  We should expect that government will stay on a path of incentivizing capital investment in infrastructure development versus trying to repair capital discrepancies via a capital transfer.