It was a long time coming: the leveling of the field. No longer is the world the way we knew it, where we'd sit passively to devour pre-packaged bits of print, radio, broadcast messages. Nowadays, technology is being bent, shaped, transformed into two-way information, messages and concepts for and by the people. Yes, technology has pretty much burned down the bridges between the powers-that-be and the powers-that-don't. But has it really? And exactly how has it done so for our Latino community?
Seems like every day there's a new report proclaiming how Latinos have taken over the Social Media space: how 70.2 percent of all Latinos online are active Facebook users; how the average user is a 20-something Hispanic female. Some of these studies go as far as to claim the digital divide is now a thing of the past.
Yes, seems that Latinos are definitely shifting the social, political and racial dynamics around the US and becoming a veritable demographic center of gravity.
While this makes for great press (and who doesn't like good press?), anyone who has taken a walk around our barrios or spoken to people within their own family can tell you that the gaping digital hole is still there... and is staring at us square on the face.
So what do we do? How can we harness our newfound "digital power" to give voice to the voiceless among us? How do we, those of us who are active online and in social media, do our best to connect and educate one another and to put in place clear actions that can help move our community forward?
The answers may not be so simple. Latinos are not, after all, a monolithic culture. Nor is the digital divide an easy problem to solve.
While it may take years to eradicate the socio-economic factors that cause this gap, there are things we can do now to start empowering our people. A good place to start may be the premise that empowerment requires awareness, as well as the willingness to own our personal power and use it appropriately. From my own experience, and from way too many online conversations with our LATISM community, [disclaimer: I'm the LATISM chat hostess] I have learned that us Latinos online in many cases act like a bridge to those who are not. We're the translators, the recommenders of brands and entertainment, the debaters of issues, the ones who buffer the potential roces between the two worlds we live in.
Part of our responsibility, then, becomes sharing the vast amount of information we have access to with those who don't, sharing with those without access the tools they need to become empowered. Only then will the community be able to take the information they receive about these issues and make informed decisions.
Online sharing can be loads of fun. It can help us find a place where we belong, it can make us feel powerful, in the know. But it is only when you take it that extra step to real life, when you see it help someone who desperately needs that resource or piece of knowledge, that you see its true power in action. Sharing, then, takes a different connotation: It is about humanizing our Latino place on the social web by giving it shape in the real world.
As members of the larger online community, be it as bloggers, tweeters or facebookers, it is time to own up and embrace the role of the 'bridge'. By empowering the voiceless, the collective roar of our community can and will become loud enough such that it is heard and acknowledged beyond the "Latino world".