This column contains parts of his presentation at the Digitize or Die (Surviving and Thriving in the
DIGITIZE or DIE: Africans, Americans, the Internet and the new Millennium
The 21st century, the one that's less than 100 days away, will mark the dawn of the truly digital economy. Whether you live on a skyscraper, in the lush of a tropical island or, rain forest, the circumscribing power of the internet will get you. Our daily experiences of the emerging techno-architecture of these times will be all too evident and realistic.
Some are on the bullet train of the digital track; more are not. Most of those who are not look like me; they are Black, people of African descent. Therefore, the concept of 'Digitize or Die' is reasonable, stark and apt for my community. Naturally, different persons and communities approach the choice and terrificient options of technology with differing senses of urgency.
Long ago, I decided that I'll be on the digital track, running as fast as I can follow technology, as much as my very limited wallet and corporate collaborations will allow. Consequently, the same sense for functional speed led me to establish USAfricaonline.com, the first U.S.-based, African-owned professional newspaper on the internet. Increasingly, by the blessed trinity of the global reach of the internet, original content on that web site and from our newspaper, USAfrica, has exponentially enhanced the interactive and internet interests of our community of recent African immigrants, African-Americans and other Americans. from feedback items, and results, USAfricaonline has served and led our community's interests.
For example, the digital power and integrational value of a bi-continental web site such as ours for Africans and Americans became very significant with the birth of the first living octuplets (one died after a few weeks) in Houston, a few days before Christmas in 1998. Our reporting caused USAfricaonline.com to be listed with a hyperlink by all the major and most-visited web sites in the world, as the source for information about the octuplets and their parents. Coincidentally, I hail from the same ethnic group (Igbo) in eastern Nigeria, like the parents of the octuplets, and visited a couple of times with them in the hospital, provided some communications/logistical assistance. We utilized USAfricaonline.com to mobilize the first network of information and opinion not only about the parents and babies but offered an ethnic-specific and globally-nuanced context about who such a unique birth in my culture and the worldview of their parents. The internet helped us achieve a community service for the babies &emdash; for which I'll always remember, and my community has expressed profound appreciation.
The birth of the octuplets did what our fortnightly newspapers cannot do: offer hourly, daily, and detailed reports. It brought a wonderful convergence of cultures, communities to our digital network for well over 100 days. We await their first birthday this December; we'll cover it with adequate context and insight. Isn't it wonderful, that this small town fellow, who left Nigeria almost a decade ago for the U.S. in search of multi-media and entrepreneurial opportunities, can utilize one e-mail message or a dynamic mix of html and a web page, to reach over 10 million persons through the facility of listserves and multiple re-transmission. It's one of my finer joys.
In terms of democracy, Africa and the digitization issue, the continent will either digitize or die a worse, painful, installmental death. We've used the power of sharing and express very strong analytical oppositional and reportorial insight to expose some of Africa's truck-load of dictators and counterfeit democrats. In terms of e-commerce, I know that the internet has served as a new channel for business and enterprise; showcasing new possibilities and realistic opportunities. Along the way, we've all also seen scam artists mount their own store fronts on the web for their flim-flam games.
We're all blessed to be alive as these exponential turns in technology occur. The internet has, fundamentally, deconstructed architecture and protocols of doing business, and in fact, of how we all live our lives. The joyful techno-thrill of sitting in front of my computer and speeding through communities and domains thousands of miles away, sharing solutions to problems, confronting hate mongers and fighting the iniquities, uncouth and brutish excesses of dictatorships inside Africa from a multiple click of the computer's mouse, and the relentless clatter of my keyboards all converge to create a harmony of opinion, certain and thought-provoking.
U.S. President Bill Clinton argued recently that "There is a growing digital divide between those who have access to the digital economy and the internet and those who don't, and that divide exists along the lines of education, income, region and race."
At another level, I'll add that the overall convergence of cultures and technologies has since created a techno-egalitarianism, whereby, for example, the same professorial types, a tribe of multinational corporation barons, scores of diplomatic personages and assorted well-heeled fellows who, a few pre-internet years ago, only read The New York Times and The Washington Post to define and understand about Africa, now has to utilize the unquestioned leverage, authentically nuanced insight and exclusive reports about African and American business, heritage matters, diplomacy and exchanges at USAfricaonline.com and BBJonline.com (The Black Business Journal). We have, by the blessing and facility of the internet and an insightful network of editors, additionally, enhanced Black Americans interests regarding their African heritage. USAfrica The Newspaper alone could not do what USAfricaonline.com, the first U.S.-based, African-owned professional newspaper on the internet, has done. Although, they reinforce each other with original content.
The power and digital convergence of the internet allowed me, our community, our team of editors and reporters to express very strong analytical and reportorial opposition to any of Africa's truck-load of dictators and counterfeit democrats. Hence, the tireless Frank Sharry of The National Immigration Forum in Washington D.C. took notice and on May 8, 1997, honored my work alongside a few other recent immigrants. Among other things, we used the internet to foster the sharing of the groundswell of opinion against military rulers such as Nigeria's late Gen. Sani Abacha. USAfricaonline did not relent, and will not in the future, in its use of the digital media to advance the frontiers of freedom inside Africa, and elsewhere in the world where we are read and have relative consequence.
The internet has not only enhanced our capacity to speak our truths into the face of raw power and its crude emanations across Africa and its more sophisticated emanations here and elsewhere, we also applaud the deserving and commendable. In that sense, it's truly a question of Digitize or Die!
In 1993, almost 100,000 Americans had access to the Internet, as we reach the end of 1999, it's expected to hit 95 million. Unfortunately, presently only 11% of African-Americans have regular access to the internet access. Inside Africa, it's estimated at less than 2%, with South Africa having the highest country access. Dictators and authoritarian figures usually like to restrict internet access. But capitalism and free enterprise seek global markets, and instant access to informed data, real-time information. The internet expands those real time options and instruments of e-commerce.
Therefore, for any business, the issue is clear: digitize or die. And, for international immigrant communities such as Africans in the U.S., and in Diaspora, minorities such as Blacks in America, and other groups seeking financial and political leverage, the power of the internet will be as functionally vital as the numerous everyday needs of living. The lame excuse of being "computer and internet literate" will hang like a shibboleth of shame and retrogression for those who are left behind. If you thought colonialism and neo-colonialism were harsh and predatory, you wouldn't like to hear my answer if you still don't own a modem. The most polite words from me will be: Go get a Life. Of course, Digitize or Die!
Enjoy the internet ride!
Nwangwu, recipient of the Journalism Excellence Award, HABJ 1997, is the founder and publisher of The Black Business Journal, BBJonline.com, USAfrica The Newspaper, USAfricaonline.com and NigeriaCentral.com. He traveled with and covered President Bill Clinton's visit to parts of Africa,