Despite my statistic about the University of Phoenix being the number one producer of black bachelor’s degree holders or my 1 in 10 of all black college students being enrolled in a for-profit, nothing hits home like a nice graphic.
Yet, that is exactly what researchers, journalists, and policy analysts never talk about.
R. Buckminster Fuller
This is all I’m saying…
This is POTUS’ face today as “reporter” Neil Munro attempted to shout him down during the President’s Rose Garden speech on immigrant students being provided work visas.
It’s just begging for a .gif.
PHOTO CREDIT: Matthew Keyes, @producermatthew, Politico
Twitter has been good to me and my academic career. So, I was very excited to see this list of academics, by discipline, for some new follows.
Alas, I found the list to be very very…white for my tastes. No shade. It’s a function of the hive mind that like attracts like and then like crowdsources like and then like becomes archived as THE ones to like.
But my black self is on twitter, too. I can like, archive, crowdsource with the best of them.
So, I’m asking my folks to tweet me the profiles of academics of color (and their policy institutes, journals, think tanks, etc.) over on twitter.
You can @tressiemcphd the twitter handle with hashtag #discipline and #minorityscholars. And, um, again not to throw shade but by #discipline I mean hashtag the person’s discipline (i.e. #economics, #sociology).
I’ll compile, archive, and give the lists a home on my blog.
If you’re trying to produce a solution it goes to reason that you think there’s a problem.
What problem do I think I’m solving?
Oh just a few things like:
So, yeah, just a few things.
But, see, to me it’s all about distribution. Right now all of those “problems”, as defined, stem from control — be it direct as in ownership or indirect as in the influence of prestige on processes — of distribution channels.
Academe owns the hiring market. Publishers own journals. The very idea of who is an “expert” is owned by prestige actors.
There is no logical, institutional reason for academe to be quarantined in this way. It is one of many things that is simple because it has been.
I am sooooo not a fan of such things.
I don’t think others are either but our response to these unequal institutional patterns has been precisely not that: “ours”. We have individual responses. A few scholars stake out space on blogger or wordpress; a professional organization adds a page to their website about such issues, there’s a twitter meet up or two. But there’s not yet been a response that harnesses the power of the collective.
Some of that is that academics aren’t, on average, the most inclined to seek out group activities. Our work, by its very nature, is often an individual pursuit. We’re overworked and overwhelmed by the enormity of it all. Those best able to lead have the coveted jobs/prestige/publications the rest of us want and that doesn’t always make for great shows of solidarity.
So this has to be easy. It has to be collective. It has to be seamless. Got it.
Breaking the distribution channels open is turning out not to be as technologically cumbersome as I thought. The question is if we build it, will they come? Because prestige can own an institution but they can’t yet own people. If people, individual by individual, change behavior patterns; if they give up a little control to gain a much broader platform; if we stop justifying what is as homage to what once was then this whole thing could take flight.
That’s the one thing I can’t control, though. And it’s the thing that is most scary. But since it’s out of my control I’m building it anyway. Chips fall where they may and all that jazz.
@dancohen wrote a piece on “blessays” that set the (nerd contingent) twittersphere abuzz a few days ago.
It’s a timely classification for this idea of mine:
Sorry, I don’t have a better name for it, but I feel it needs a succinct name so we can identify and discuss it. It’s not a tossed-off short blog post. It’s not a long, involved essay. It’s somewhere in between: it’s a blessay.
The blessay is a manifestation of the convergence of journalism and scholarship in mid-length forms online. (For those keeping track at home, #7 on my list of ways that journalism and the humanities are merging in digital media). You’ve seen it on The Atlantic‘s website, on smart blogs like BLDGBLOG and Snarkmarket, and on sitesthat aggregate high-quality longform web writing.
Some characteristics of the blessay:
1) Mid-length: more ambitious than a blog post, less comprehensive than an academic article. Written to the length that is necessary, but no more. If we need to put a number on it, generally 1,000-3,000 words.
2) Informed by academic knowledge and analysis, but doesn’t rub your nose in it.
3) Uses the apparatus of the web more than the apparatus of the journal, e.g., links rather than footnotes. Where helpful, uses supplementary evidence from images, audio, and video—elements that are often missing or flattened in print.
4) Expresses expertise but also curiosity. Conclusive but also suggestive.
5) Written for both specialists and an intelligent general audience. Avoids academic jargon—not to be populist, but rather out of a feeling that avoiding jargon is part of writing well.
6) Wants to be Instapapered and Read Later.
7) Eschews simplistic formulations superficially borrowed from academic fields like history (no “The Puritans were like Wikipedians”).
I suspect readers of this blog know the genre I’m talking about. Am I missing other key characteristics of the blessay? What are some exemplary instances?
Almost immediately I recognized that my idea for a new kind of smart distribution platform would have to harness this emerging field of writing that Dan calls the blessay and that others call everything from a “piece” to “intelligent journalism”.
As a former writing coach in undergrad who had a bang up digital rhetorics prof (get ‘em that first year before life beats them down like I did) I know we’re moving towards some new twists on classic writing forms. Cathy Davidson also touches on this evolution in writing.
Those of us engaging in these smart, mid-form pieces that draw upon extant research but don’t go so far as to create entirely new pieces of knowledge deserve a space to share and connect. The blessay, or whatever you want to call it, is central to this idea I have. Stay tuned…
It’s all so clear in my head. In my head.
Getting the idea out of my head so that conversations with people can be productive seems the next logical step. And logic is about all that’s guiding this process for me.
I’m pulling from every source here. Months ago I had a chat with my now friend, the estimable scholar and digital humanities superstar Miriam, about wireframes and user interfaces. I’m using that convo to guide my exploration with www.mockflow.com. The service I imagine is multifaceted but it should never feel that way to the end-user. I also have stadial goals, many of which won’t be necessary in the initial launch but the system should be built for them from the get-go.
I find explaining that verbally — my preferred medium of communication — is just too much for most receivers. So, this is my attempt at going spatial. I’m so not a spatial thinker, though. I’m a grown ass woman that still draws smiley faces on her renditions of the sun. Impressionism is lost on me. But I know it’s vitally important to many others, particularly in the circles where I’ll need to connect with talent.
So, my next steps involve wireframing the entire thing as it exists in my head and fleshing out the business plan.
I think that’s one of the many “decision points” for any idea: the moment when that shit you kvetch about with your friends or in the shower morphs from thoughts to an actual idea. Ideas convey ownership and, *gulp*, responsibility.
You don’t have to protect your thoughts with non-disclosure forms or remember to get an EIN for your kvetching. But ideas? They are needy little buggers. I get why people don’t do this more often. I get why I’ve not done it more often.
But there’s a moment when you justfeelit and the discomfort of not acting is greater than the discomfort of acting.
Or, I’m crazy.
I started by talking to friends and such with mixed results. The biggest issue is they’re often just talking and you’ve got ants in your proverbial pants.
LESSON 1: Too much talking can be a bad thing.
People are better at imagining roadblocks than they are solutions and that is contagious. Or, they get obsessed with weird minutiae that drains all your psychic energy. You want to think through processes and UIs and they want to order office furniture or some crap.
So, I shut up for about a week.
I’ve been sitting in the idea all day and night, ordering in pizza and Chinese and just muddling through the idea.
Maybe talking to yourself, initially, is more important than talking to other people.
LESSON 2: But at some point you have to, er, defecate or get off the pot.
Just START. That’s the thing.
So I reached out to my Uni for help procuring non-disclosure and non-compete forms. I had a guy offer some from his consulting business over a dinner date but I kinda got the feeling I’d need to sleep with him first? So, yeah. I went to the Uni.
Next, I dusted off an old EIN number and set up contact information thanks to Google Voice and a P.O. Box at the office across the street from my house.
I spent countless hours pouring over names when I realized that process is kind of like painting your bathroom during finals week: a way to feel productive when you’re anything but.
I’m using a working name for now. Part of the problem is I have a “hook” for explaining the idea and I want the name to convey that. I probably need to divorce myself from the hook for a good name to emerge.
But the company name is planned and reserved.
I ordered all the programming books at the library. I don’t intend to build it out myself but a partnership where one person knows nothing about how the sausage is made seems, to me, a good way to become the Winklevosses (Winklevossi?). Ruby is where I’m starting because…well, it’s a nice name. *shrug*
I’ve talked with a few people and I suspect most of the framework stuff already exists in pieces of existing code here and there. The challenge is bringing it together to make the whole I envision.
As soon as one of my many research jobs actually pays me I’ll move into buying space, domains, etc.
In the meantime I’m all about reading, thinking, and talking (with a purse full of NDs, of course). I’m also searching for the perfect partner. Like this advice, I’d already figured out this is too much for one person. I’m dangerously close to a want ad on the campus listserv and an OkCupid profile. As much as I have an affinity for benevolent dictatorships I need a real partner. Let’s hope that’s easier in business than it’s proven to be in life. Womp, womp.
Every good story has it’s own story: the story of how its story begins.
This is the origin story for the craziest idea I’ve had since my last crazy idea.
One day I read an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education. The argument was something about black people being something not quite enough or right or what have you. I’m black so I was supposed to care that yet another white woman thought me, or someone like me, was or is something altogether different or inferior than herself or her idealized self or her idealized notion of black or people or something.
Only I could care less because I’ve been black a long time and such things bore me.
Instead, I kept seeing how this poorly written screed was really just the dying gasp of a publishing model whose time has come. Worse, it was the dying gasp of a publishing model within an education model that is also showing signs of a death rattle (a “dattle” as it were).
All this dying and all we could talk about was black people?
We gotta do be able to do better than that.
Or, that’s what I kept screaming online until someone finally said, “maybe YOU should do better.”
And I thought maybe this person living in my computer was right.
The idea won’t let me alone.
Death is either the end or a beginning. It’s all a matter of perspective*.
So, I’m now a one woman lean, mean start-up machine.
And in graduate school which means I’m really poor.
And my coding is limited to cutting and pasting commands from a google search into a blogger template to change the border.
And I’m a chick.
But the brilliant thing about having absolutely no chance of success is that you really don’t have anything to be afraid of!
Also, the rules no longer apply.
Which is lucky for me because during my first attempt at a info meeting with a programmer I was told that start-ups are generally seeded by a “friends and family round” of investment.
No, I mean I’m really laughing out loud at this point because, one, I was half a bottle in on a Shiraz and, two, I don’t think my friends and family could raise enough money for a steak dinner.
I read as much as I could about tech and start ups and it’s all very prescribed these days:
1. Be white.
2. Be male (kinda optional but definitely helps).
3. Have a parent with a preternatural interest in tomorrow’s cutting edge technology, yesterday.
4. Go to an ivy league school.
5. Connect with ivy league friends during dinner clubs.
6. Build company in dorm.
7. Lose friends.
8. Win investment from friends’ friends and enemies.
9. Marry your long-time girlfriend the week you become a billionaire.
Fine, my research is heavily skewed by repeated viewings of “The Social Network”.
But that’s still about how it goes.
I’m none of those things.Thus, the rules don’t apply to me.
This tumblr? This is my friend and family round. I don’t have Ivy League friends or supper clubs or testicles but I’ve got tweeps and databases…and I’ve got the idea.
Let’s see how far it takes me.
Ride along, please. I’m kind of depending on crowd-sourced expertise here.
Or, just watch me fail. Publicly. Tremendously. Ridiculously.
It won’t be the first time.