“Know yuh place!” That’s how Bajans warn people to stay in their lane. While it usually signals someone has overstepped or is in danger of breaching an invisible line, on the flip side, there’s value in understanding where we belong. There’s power in knowing our purpose. As the world faces upheaval triggered by countless existential crises, I’m launching this 14-part series My Belonging to encourage virtual conversations and empowering action around civic decay, national reconstruction and the idea of digital transformation. This notion of transformation has been so misused, abused and misunderstood in recent years, it is now almost a joke. One thing I know: as human beings, we can effect change only if we, ourselves, have been transformed … and there is a structure, a process, a discipline, and principles that govern such transformations. As we say in Barbados, “It doan just happen so!” The tiny islands of the Caribbean can become test beds for new approaches to solving difficult global challenges … but they have to first realise their own internal transformations. Introductions, the first Episode of My Belonging, sets the stage for a virtual exploration of these issues. At its core is my evolving understanding of what it means to be an Afro-Caribbean woman of faith specialising in technology policy, innovation and development at this global changing of the seasons.
The Time of My Remembering is a poetic piece I began years ago that continues to speak to the moment. Its theme is understanding who we are, what we were born to do and how who we are and what we were born to do has the potential to connect us to each other in empowering communities of purpose that anchor us in the world.
Nothing stays the same. Change is an inevitable by-product of the human condition. But as time seems to accelerate in a 21st century reality driven by the technologies and global crises of the moment, what imprint has Barbados’ history as a plantation economy had on its development and its perception of what it means to belong to today? How does a tiny nation preserve its distinctiveness in an interconnected world being overtaken by the mass movement of people, money, information, knowledge, and cultural content? How does it make the transition from a consumer society shaped by the remnants of the plantation to an economy fuelled by home-grown innovation, where its people have a safe space to belong?
As we watch the things our parents and grandparents built collapse under the weight of universal demands for justice and a balanced, sustainable future, these days I find myself reflecting more and more on the memory of belonging. Who or what is a Barbadian, a Bajan as we say? What makes Barbados unique? What role has the island’s history as a plantation economy founded on the trade in enslaved Africans had on who Bajans are as a people attached to a particular geography at this particular moment in time? How does it impact how we recognise, create and assess value? The truth is that identity is a social construct, and self-confidence a learned behaviour. In many ways, we are what we remember. Perhaps even what our DNA remembers. And our memory of belonging, or of not belonging as the case might be, has the power to shape how we treat to today.
The need to belong is one of the most basic imperatives of the modern human experience. For many, it has become an almost spiritual yearning for connection and community, for hearth and home. It is ironic that in our technologically driven world, which Marshall McLuhan so famously labelled “a global village” and “a simultaneous happening,” people seem more disconnected from each other than ever. The convergence of digital information & communications technologies and the emergence of the new social media have paradoxically created a divergence, a splintering, of traditional connections between people as they spend more and more time immersed in virtual experiences that do not require deep human attachment. This invasiveness is intensified by the manner in which some countries are approaching the deployment of modern digital technology frameworks, layering them onto out- dated institutional structures, processes, cultures and mindsets designed to respond to the imperatives of an oppressive, discriminatory, patriarchal colonial reality. Today, more than 60 years after many Caribbean small-island developing states gained their independence, what some have called the “technologies of freedom” are in danger of becoming the technologies of dependency, domination, surveillance, exploitation and control. My Belonging explores what is possible when people of good will commit to a process of renewal that makes room for new community-based people-centred models of technological development and diffusion designed to usher in a more equitable, inclusive, compassionate and sustainable world … a world where every human being has a belong.