Art, Education, Tech, and Equity
Mid-Summer is normally a time for performances, festivals, and new works spanning all art forms and genres. But right now there’s no clear path in sight for the return of live audiences, especially with COVID-19 cases rising across the country. Conversely, with the start of Fall terms now just 1-2 months off, most in education are consumed with plans for reopening our schools, colleges, and universities for possible in-person instruction, thoughseveral prominent Universities have announced highly scaled back versions of an on-campus experience.
Both the performing arts and education have turned to technology as a partial solution (online classes and streaming performances). At the start of the crisis, most of us accepted the tradeoffs of moving (too) quickly online for classes this past spring. We could be forgiven for making it up as we were going along, because well… we were. When performance venues shut down, any new bit of content or diversion was received by audiences as a gift. And with ticket income essentially going to zero, any opportunity for engagement (and maybe even a tiny bit of revenue) was welcomed by arts organizations.
Technology can be used in amazing ways, enabling us to do and create things that weren’t previously possible. But the use of tech can also further divide us into haves and have nots. Much has been written about the Digital Divide, the inequitable access to high speed internet that hinders education, employment, and economic opportunity. I believe that internet access should be a right and a public utility, but also that the growing divide is about much more than access.
While we rely more and more on technology, it is also clear that the tech industry has an equity problem. The most profitable companies in the world are also some of the least diverse. We all use products and services from Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, and Microsoft, while their employees are overwhelmingly white and Asian males. It’s not that I believe there’s ill intent, but when there’s a lack of diversity among the voices involved in the creation of new tech, the outcomes also serve a less diverse audience (and are sometimes downright scary). Racially biased facial recognition systems have led to false arrests. Amazon inadvertently built an AI for human resources biased against women.
So, I don’t think about the Digital Divide in terms of devices and connections, but rather the pathway to generate knowledge, creativity, and opportunity. While smartphones are nearly ubiquitous, the software applications (and expertise) to assemble creative collaborations (the kind that I try to highlight in this newsletter) aren’t widespread. I fear that COVID-19 isolation is further increasing the digital access divide into a learning and cultural divide: those with essentially unlimited bandwidth, equipment, and training to participate in creative making and learning vs. those without.
For more information and resources, I spoke about this topic in my
TEDxPhiladelphia 2019 talk, Getting Woke to the Digital Divide.
(Socially) Distant Creations
- What to My People is the Fourth of July [Daveed Diggs] A powerful video monologue inspired by Frederick Douglass’ famous speech, “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July”.
- 8 Minutes 46 Seconds [Richard Young and friends, including Joseph Conyers of the Philadelphia Orchestra ] A moving collaborative performance by musicians from around the world of the “Albinoni Adagio” (by Remo Giazzoto), in tribute to George Floyd, lasting exactly 8:46.
- With a Little Help From My Friends [The Muppets & James Corden] Heartwarming socially-distanced performance of the Beatles’ classic tune by our favorite characters.
- Pipelinefunk [Armin Küpper, via YouTube] An amazing solo saxophone jam using a huge pipeline as a creative partner.
- WAFM [Greg Chun] Original a cappella song and public service announcement that perfectly captures the current moment, by actor and composer (and Fleet Street alum) Greg Chun.
What I’m creating
Your (semi) weekly Hamilton reference… No way to convey the beginning and ending rhythms of this song with piano (at least not with my meager keyboard skills). So I combined last week’s intro and outro using Minecraft music blocks with piano and vocals. Sorry to make you Wait For It.