By Lenrod Nzulu Baraka
On a daily basis, as I traverse the length and breath of my native island of Barbados, I encounter numerous Afro-Barbadians who are convinced that the most popular tools of the information age, namely the smart television, computer, cell phone and tablet have combined to upended the reading of books, thus creating a revolution in knowledge acquisition. While it is true that the tools of the information age have opened new vistas for knowledge acquisition, it is also equally true that watching videos on YouTube or reading articles on social media will only give people of African ancestry access to the troposphere of knowledge available on any subject.
Watching YouTube videos and reading articles on social media platforms may be adequate for those who want to wallow on the periphery of knowledge excellence. Anyone interested in moving from the periphery of knowledge into its inner sanctum however must be prepared to dig deeper into the minds and thoughts of the greatest thinkers of our age and those knowledge masters who preceded them. YouTube and social media platforms at best can only present an introduction to the deeper or higher spheres of knowledge available.
When the radio and television revolutions hit critical mass, it was widely believed that technology had evolved to a point that would make knowledge acquisition universal. The shakers and movers in every field were interviewed on radio and television. Gradually the owners of radio and television stations, driven by the profit motive, discovered that entertainment was much better for the economic bottom line than information. Radio and television therefore generally gravitated to providing a super abundance of entertainment supplemented by hard news and some knowledge-oriented programing.
YouTube, which is regarded by many as one of the best educational platforms ever devised, is an amalgam of both educational material and entertainment. A survey of the top YouTube channels reveal that music, children’s programing, movies, and self-help material are among the most watched videos. Since movies tend to be longer than the average educational video you don’t have to be able to explain the nuances of string theory to appreciate that entertainment keeps more people engaged on YouTube than educational programing.
As a YouTuber myself, I am aware that people very often do not watch educational programing on YouTube to the end. YouTube analytics gives content producers an awareness of the amount of time spent by viewers on each video uploaded. In many instances viewers only spend a few minutes viewing a video that may be an hour long. This has led to many content producers uploading shorter videos. If it is true that sermonettes produce Christianettes then it might equally be true that shorter videos on YouTube may be producing intellectual dwarfs among YouTube watchers.
Online algorithms also have a tendency to encourage intellectual tribalism by feeding viewers with more of whatever they are interested in. Social media platforms have been implicated in the fueling of social incohesion by exposing warring factions to information that only serves to widen the divide between estranged parties. These negative information loops can have deadly consequences as in the case of Caucasian supremacists who resort to violent attacks against minority groups after being exposed to racist informational loops on social media.
People of African ancestry, notwithstanding the hype surrounding social media and the tools of the information age, should be prepared to stand by the tried and tested methods of knowledge acquisition. The quickest way to master any field of knowledge is to find individuals who have mastered the field and become immerse in the thoughts and ideas of the masters. Listening to lectures by the masters on social media is a good starting point but reading whatever has been written by the masters is still a necessary component for those seeking to gain a mastery of any field.
Books have been with us since time immemorial and I suspect that books albeit in electronic or even in holographic formats will be with us far into the future. As a people aspiring to regain our long-lost place of honor among the nations of the world, people of African ancestry should be reading more, not less, in the information age. Neil deGrasse Tyson needs to become the rule not the exception among people of African ancestry.
Wallowing on the periphery or in the depths of knowledge mediocrity will only serve to keep African and Caribbean societies at the very bottom of the pile of extremely poor nations. Books are still the best storehouses of ideas old and new. The tools of the information age now allow us to walk around with entire libraries that we can access at a moments notice. Ignorance in the information age is a form of criminal neglect that people of African ancestry cannot allow to fester in our midst. Parents, educators, politicians, preachers and all those who care about the future of the global Black collective, as a matter of priority, must ensure that they lend their voices and influence to the almost lost art of reading among people of African ancestry. Lenrod Nzulu Baraka is the founder of Afro-Caribbean Spiritual Teaching Center and the author of The Rebirth of Black Civilization: Making Africa and the Caribbean Great Again.