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An Interview with Jada Lindo | February 28, 2024

The Art of Tech Engineering – and the Impact of Tech Engineering on the Arts: A Black History Month Perspective

Technology has enabled new forms of cultural expression and connectivity on a global scale, profoundly influencing and preserving Black culture. It has also empowered Black creators, including engineers, to elevate their art. Here’s how.

Throughout Black History Month 2024, there has been a dedicated focus on “African Americans and the Arts.” Stories, events, and interviews have explored the key influence African Americans have had in the fields of "visual and performing arts, literature, fashion, folklore, language, film, music, architecture, culinary and other forms of cultural expression."

However, as technologists, we feel technology design and engineering is an art in and of itself, and that it has spurred cultural movements simply by changing communications capabilities. Idea and information exchanges are happening on a global scale every second via mobile technologies, turning devices into think tank facilitators and action drivers. So, we asked Jada Lindo, a Black mechanical engineer in Zebra’s Enterprise Mobile Computing business, for her perspective on the intersection of technology and art in Black culture and history. Here’s what she shared:

Your Edge Blog Team: Do you see technology as art?

Jada: Art is dynamic and multi-dimensional. Art transcends beyond the mere visual or tangible objects that are created or produced, reaching into the realm of experiences these objects evoke, its impact on individuals, and its influence on societal norms and practices. Art has the power to both reflect and respond to reality.

Similarly, technology and engineering can be viewed as expressions of art. They encompass a vast range of fields, from hardware to software and their sub-specialties. These domains often reflect the needs and values of our ever-evolving society, addressing societal challenges, enhancing the quality of life, and unlocking new possibilities. Technology, design, and engineering can indeed be viewed as an artistic medium or expression. This idea becomes clear when you consider how these fields can influence, mold, and impact our cultural landscape, as well as the way people engage with technology and each other.

Just as with traditional forms of art, technology, design, and engineering require creativity and innovation, especially when trying to address complex problems and create novel solutions. The iterative processes in engineering contribute to the development of innovative technologies. These innovations that are birthed from these processes serve practical purposes and possess the potential to shape the world we live in and our communication capabilities. Technology has the extraordinary power to facilitate the exchange of ideas and information. Specifically, mobile technologies have emerged as powerful tools for creativity, communication, and collaboration. They enable new forms of cultural expression and connectivity on a global scale. Mobile technologies serve as powerful instruments for transforming communication capabilities, providing instant access to a wealth of information, facilitating real-time collaboration and communication, and enabling data collection and analysis.

What influence do you believe technology has had on Black culture? What will people 50 or 100 years from now say about its influence on music, visual art, or even the art of communication?

Jada: Technology has profoundly influenced Black culture and communication, significantly reshaping the creation, expression, and distribution of art, and the preservation of Black cultural heritage and history. Through technological archives and installations, invaluable contributions, artworks, narratives, and more that may have otherwise been lost have been preserved and shared. Technology, design, and engineering have spurred cultural shifts and introduced innovative modes of storytelling and expression. Technological advancements have paved the way for new mediums for artistic expression, such as digital art and interactive installations.

When reflecting on technology’s influence on Black culture, people will express admiration for its role in preserving and promoting Black art forms. They will appreciate how it amplified Black voices to be heard and stories to be told, and how it facilitated cultural exchange and understanding. People will say that technology was a catalyst for global recognition and appreciation of Black culture, challenging stereotypes removing barriers, and fostering a deeper understanding of the richness of Black culture.

What influence do you believe Black culture has had on technology design, engineering, and use?

The field of engineering has been deeply impacted by Black culture, especially through the contributions of Black scientists, technologists, and engineers who have introduced unique perspectives and innovative approaches to problem-solving. This influence can be seen in the development of products and services tailored specifically to the needs of Black communities, such as mobile healthcare applications, educational platforms, cultural preservation technologies, etc.

Black culture has played a crucial role in sculpting artificial intelligence (AI). It has shed light on the importance of addressing biases, diversity, ethical considerations, and cultural representation within AI systems, fostering a more inclusive technological landscape. The richness of Black culture rooted in creativity and expression has played a role in the aesthetics, industrial design, functionality, and user experience of hardware products.

Our technology history is filled with many Black hidden figures who have left profound imprints on the field and helped lay the foundation for our modern technologies. These trailblazers span across diverse industries. 

For instance, Jesse Russell is credited with developing digital cellular technology in modern smartphones. Gladys West played a significant role in the development of the Global Positioning System (GPS) development, being known for her mathematical modeling of the shape of the Earth, which was crucial for obtaining accurate calculation of the satellite orbits. Mark Dean, computer scientist and engineer, was instrumental in creating the first color personal computer monitor, co-developing the Industry Standard Architecture bus, which allows for multiple devices to be plugged into a computer. The influence of these pioneers is an example of the Black influence that is stitched in today’s cultural and technology landscape and is a testament to the significant impact of Black culture of technology, design, and engineering.

Black engineer Jesse Russell was considered a pioneer in the field of cellular and wireless communications because he led the first team from Bell Laboratories to introduce digital cellular technology in the United States in 1998, which became known as 2G wireless technology. So, it would seem fair to credit him with enabling more widespread societal exposure to Black artists and culture. He launched this digital movement that enabled us to be introduced to Black artists and musicians via a constantly connected device that we carry everywhere. Music and art, along with ideas, from the Black community can be shared in a split second with the world – as can the legacy of Black cultural leaders. But are there other Black engineers who you believe have had equally significant influence on our world, specifically as it pertains to the evolution or sharing of Black culture? Or perhaps someone else who helped evolve and advance technology as its own art form?

Jada: Dr. Marian Croak has been a pivotal figure in voice and data communications. Dr. Marian Croak played an integral role in the development of the Voice Over Internet Protocol (VoIP), an innovative technology that allows people to communicate via video conferencing and/or audio calls while using the internet. (Think of Zoom, Google Voice, WhatsApp, and Skype). Her contributions to modern telecommunication systems have enhanced accessibility in communication allowing us to stay connected.

How do you see technology either inspiring or enabling Black creatives today, whether their art is industrial design or visual design?

Jada: Art has always served as a powerful medium for emotional expression, challenging biases, and stereotypes, initiating dialogues, voicing opinions, and storytelling throughout history. Creatives have used art as a powerful tool to address societal issues and drive meaningful change within their communities. It is so exciting to see how this generation embraces using technology as a new canvas. Artists are incorporating technology in their work, allowing creatives to expand the possibilities of what art can be, offering new possibilities in industrial and visual designers such as digital installations, virtual and augmented reality, illustration software, 3D modeling, and animation. The impact of technology on art and overall creativity has been profound transforming how we create, experience, and consume art. 

Technology is not just a tool for Black creatives, but it is also a source of inspiration and a platform for expression for creatives. It offers new ways to create, share, and experience, resulting in a richer, diverse, cultural landscape.

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