While Washington remains in gridlock, the nation just celebrated the 45th anniversary of National Hispanic Heritage Month. As is our annual tradition, we celebrated the histories, cultures and contributions of Latin@s to America, and held important conversation about our future. Despite the challenges, we celebrate progress for Latinos across every part of the economy. But as we look to the future, we know that technology access, education, literacy and online entrepreneurship are some of the keys to the next decades of progress.
Could Hispanic Heritage Month, 2014 be the year we begin a new celebration of Latino prosperity, record accomplishments in K-12 digital literacy and technology access, and new inroads to digital entrepreneurship and innovation?
To get there, let's start now.
Access to 21st century communications technology and skills is critical to thriving communities. Broadband technology (high-speed Internet) has led to significant advancements in education, healthcare and business, not to mention in government and the community. The mobile app market is a$50 billion annual marketplace, and growing. The booming economic opportunity on the Internet is a call to action to close the digital divide, and prepare generations to lead in the digital economy.
Studies show that Latinos already rely on mobile technology, and use it at very high rates. The Pew Internet and American Life Project found that although Latinos fall behind other communities in overall Internet usage, Latinos continue to be the most active users of mobile devices for Internet access. On average, 51 percent of Latinos access the Internet from their phone, as compared to 33 percent of whites and 46 percent of African Americans. With young adults leading these data trends, we can only expect these numbers to increase.
These usage trends provide an opportunity to draw young people into some of the most lucrative, innovative parts of the expanding digital economy.
The school-based digital revolution is key to the future. In the classroom, high-speed Internet is a critical investment in our children by giving them the proper tools to bolster academic achievement. Adults seeking to continue their education, get additional training, or change careers, can do so through distance learning over the Internet, today. In fact, according to a U.S. Department of Education study, students taking advantage of online learning appear to do better than those sitting in a traditional classroom.
In healthcare, living in a rural area or having limited access to transportation no longer means that access to a physician or specialist is impossible. Broadband access has allowed for telehealth technologies that reduce health care costs while maintaining high quality care.
Internet access has transformed the way businesses operate, communicate with employees and interact with customers and vendors. The future of jobs, entrepreneurship and opportunity is in the digital economy.
As we plan to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month 2014, we must bear in mind the challenge presented to us by President Obama two years ago when he proclaimed, "Our country thrives on the diversity and ingenuity of all our people, and our ability to out-innovate, out-educate, and out-build the rest of the world will depend greatly on the success of Latinos."
Digital literacy, online entrepreneurship, and a focus on building opportunities and equity through technology, are the keys to success in the 21st Century for Latinos and America.
Jason Lorenz is a lecturer at the Rutgers School of Communications and Information, and Director of Innovation Policy for the Latino Information network at Rutgers (LIN@R). Follow on twitter: @llorenzesq.