15 May 2009

Diamonds In My Own Backyard

The good thing about a blog is that, in an otherwise mundane week for news, you can write about other things that you think are more important.

The two things that piqued my interest this week more than Miss California, the president's commencement speech at Arizona State University, or the blowout scoring in the NBA playoffs were items I found right in my blogroll.

First up - Jason Campbell, hereby known as "Dr. Jay".


Jason has ascended to that rarest of academic heights by being awarded his PhD about a week ago. I don't know how many black men will earn doctorates in 2009, but I do know that the number of ALL blacks achieving this educational milestone in 2006 is somewhere around 1,650 - so it would be safe to say that this years crop is a pretty small number.

A long time ago, back when I was in college, I used to think about becoming an English professor, but spending the amount of time that I did in the department getting my bachelor's degree cured me of that notion. The men, none of whom were black or Indian or anything other than WASPs and Jews, seemed to be from another planet. Although there were a few PhD's in my neighborhood growing up, and we lived near a college campus, there was something about these men at my alma mater, men who seemed to be overly cloistered from the world, that caused my desire to wane.

So it is with a sense of awe and nostalgia that I salute Dr. Campbell, who has persevered in spite of the long odds against the completion of his entire program of study. I hope the toolbox he brings to the table culturally as well as intellectually will inspire young black men contemplating a life of scholarship the way I was that there is life after the dissertation.

The second thing that caught my eye this week is a profound statement about the direction in which our media, and by extension our society, is headed that was on The Flack last week. The Flack really isn't a political blog, but Peter Himler, a veteran New York public relations professional, reveals so much about the massive effort that is at work in the advertising world practically around the clock in an attempt to control and predict our behavior in order that others may profit from our malleability that I just had to include his blog on my list.

One of his latest posts talks about the latest thing in marketing is something he calls "journalism 2.0" in his article "Forget Journalists. It's The Algorithm" :

It involves the confluence of three big digital drivers: advertising, algorithms and content creation:

    "...former MySpace Chairman Richard Rosenblatt has spent the past three years refining a set of algorithms that it uses as a guide for mass-producing content that it publishes on its many Web properties."

As I understand it, Mr. Rosenblatt's company, Demand Media, creates content, not based on a journalistic assessment of what's news or newsworthy, but instead on an algorithm that matches (and attempts to monetize) consumer and advertising demand for a given topic.

If I were you, I would be afraid of anything like this. Very afraid. Maybe you aren't willing to admit how limited your mind is, but I am. If the only information I could ever get was only the information I wanted, how could I learn anything new?

To paraphrase motivational speaker Earl Nightingale, these two bloggers I've spotlighted tonight are just some of the "diamonds in my own backyard."

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