Professor considers implication of online advertisements
Sanjay Paul

The article appeared in The Etownian, Oct. 27, 2011.

The Etownian recently published a piece on Convocation. The Sept. 15 article dealt with speeches made at the event, and was also published online at, and as Homer perused it, his eyes were drawn to links at the end of the article. These links, presumably generated by Web technologies that scour global databases to ferret out the most relevant matches, offered recommendations for further reading. Perhaps, thought Homer, there would be links to articles dealing with convocations, earthquakes, college presidents, even scones or iPads (all mentioned in the original article).

So imagine Homer’s surprise when the first recommended link in the list promised to show him “How to Become a Dietitian in Australia (eHow).” This was no errant fluke—the subheading clearly stated it was “Selected for you by our sponsor.”

Homer wondered who the sponsor was. If the ads on the page were any indication, the sponsor could have been Wells Fargo, American Public University or Keurig. The first was a bank, the second appeared to be an institution of higher education, and the last was a maker of single-serve coffee brewers. People in higher education tend to have checking accounts and they consume a lot of coffee, so this juxtaposition is not that much of a stretch. But why would these companies think Homer would be interested in becoming a dietitian Down Under?

If he heeded their advice (by now, the recommendation was turning into solid career advice in Homer’s feverish mind), not only would he have to switch careers—from teaching economics to learning about diets (would his experience with scones count, he wondered fleetingly)—he would have to change continents as well. Couldn’t they have suggested that Homer become a dietitian in Elizabethtown, or move to Australia as a professor? The transition in either case would have been so much easier.

But Technology moves in mysterious ways. And who was he, thought Homer, to question the wisdom being dispensed by the Unseen Algorithm? If Google (or Bing or whoever it was behind the scenes) said he should be looking at a different career in another country, could he afford to ignore the recommendation? What if Technology was right—perhaps this was the best time to make a career-and-continent change?

And so Homer clicked on the link. The first sentence on eHow was promising: “Becoming a dietitian in Australia requires certain courses and certification… that qualify you to provide nutritional guidance to patients.”

Since then Homer has spoken to his family. They support him fully. Although it will be from afar! Turns out they didn’t want to leave their schools and work, and move to a distant continent to join Homer in his quest to provide nutritional guidance to patients.

Their faith in Technology’s recommendations was a little lacking, thought Homer, but he was okay with that.

Homer is now looking into taking out a loan from Wells Fargo to finance an online education at American Public University (assuming they are in the education business). And, oh, he thought, he would also need a coffeemaker. Homer wondered if he could use the proceeds from the loan to buy a Keurig.

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