Blogging Archaeology Week 2 — The unexpected consequences of blogging

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I’m not quite keep­ing up with Colleen Morgan’s ques­tions:

In our last ques­tion, many emphas­ized the pub­lic access that blog­ging brings to archae­ology, the option to “phone a friend,” as Kristin Sewell stated. Blogging gives new schol­ars a chance to speak out, to debunk 2012 fool­ish­ness and to give a little bit back to the pub­lic that usu­ally signs our paychecks in one way or another. Though it is gen­er­ally embraced (says she of the Berkeley bubble!), pub­lic out­reach can be incred­ibly dif­fi­cult, tricky, and prone to hid­den down­sides. Blogging archae­ology is often fraught with ten­sions that are some­times not imme­di­ately appar­ent. Beyond the gen­eral prob­lems that come with per­form­ing as a pub­lic intel­lec­tual, what risks do archae­olo­gists take when they make them­selves avail­able to the pub­lic via blog­ging? What (if any) are the unex­pec­ted con­sequences of blog­ging? How do you choose what to share?

This is a belated reply to the ques­tion for reas­ons too tedi­ous to be worth writ­ing about. It means I’ve changed my mind a few times, but one seems to have stuck.

Permanence.

Blogs tend to be used for ideas in pro­gress, eph­em­eral thoughts and off-the-cuff obser­va­tions. If you miss a few weeks or months of archae­o­b­logs, it makes more sense to jump into now instead of catch­ing up through back posts. If a past thought is import­ant blog­gers have the sense to link back to it. It means blogs are a stream of nowcasting.

At the same time blogs have per­man­ence. There’s a mech­an­ical issue with this. There’s five years of posts here and that means that spam­mers can tar­get five years of com­ment forms to push their advert­ising mes­sages. That’s why I’ve got my blog set to auto-close com­ments after a few months. That doesn’t remove the intel­lec­tual problem.

Unless you’re dead you’ll have changed opin­ions about some things over five years. I don’t have a prob­lem with chan­ging my mind. I change my mind as I get new evid­ence, or learn more about a sub­ject. I also think I change my mind as I for­get things. I can have a poor memory some­times. I sus­pect a memory isn’t some­thing that sits in the brain to be retrieved, it’s some­thing that’s con­struc­ted in the now. Lose parts of the inform­a­tion that build the memory and you end up with some­thing dif­fer­ent. It means while I’d like to pre­tend all my changes of opin­ion are the res­ult of care­ful reasoned ana­lysis, some­time they just change. Throw into the mix the fact that you can get things wrong any­way and if you’re using your blog to build up thoughts and reflec­tions, you’ll have some­thing that con­tra­dicts what you think now in your archive. The magic of Google means that often this archive is just as easy to find as your cur­rent thoughts. It can be even more vis­ible, because how many people go back and audit their memor­ies? If it’s a change through poor memory would you even notice your opin­ion had changed?

If you’re aware of this and strive for con­sist­ency writ­ing becomes a pain.

For example, I now don’t think memes have much to offer when it comes embod­i­ment of ideas in mater­ial cul­ture. In plain English I see lots of Greek-style temples in Sicily, but I don’t see any­thing that memes explain. Yet if you look through my archive, you might get the impres­sion that I’m taken with the culture-as-virus idea. So do I go back and delete or at least strikethrough all ideas I now dis­agee with? Do I write rebut­tals? If memes aren’t inter­est­ing and there are new ideas that are, like the Extended Mind, I’d rather write about that. But I’m not going to do that till after I’ve read The Bounds of Cognition by Adams and Aizawa, which is a thought­ful argu­ment against the Extended Mind hypothesis.

You may vary, but my thought pro­cesses often seem to be a sys­tem­atic attempt to run out of wrong ways to do things. Yet in pub­lic­a­tions the fash­ion is to present con­clu­sions as being the inev­it­able out­come of out premises. Using a blog as a reflect­ive tool means lit­ter­ing my pub­lic note­book with ideas that turned out to be extremely evit­able. If blog­ging becomes more the norm this might become a socially accept­able part of the schol­arly pro­cess. But could the oppos­ite be true? Will it become more desir­able to have a research blog that doesn’t run into dead ends? If so will people edit them­selves for pub­lic consumption?

I’m all for edit­ing final writ­ing — my first drafts veer between the adequate to the awful — but edit­ing notes of thoughts in pro­gress on a blog both­ers me. Of course that could be because I buy into the Extended Mind hypo­thesis and see my blog as an exten­sion of my mind. If it turns out Adams and Aizawa are write this’ll be another pub­lic dead end on the site.

5 thoughts on “Blogging Archaeology Week 2 — The unexpected consequences of blogging

  1. I recog­nise this prob­lem. I try and get round it, when a change is con­scious or the res­ult of new inform­a­tion, by leav­ing a ping­back (if I blogged about the new ver­sion) or a com­ment on the old post, but I’m far from rig­or­ous about it and, as you say, one might not remem­ber. I have a deal too much affec­tion for my own writ­ing but I still don’t waste that much time read­ing my years-old out­pour­ings. So, much to think about there.

    On the other hand, a while ago I was at a con­fer­ence in which a very wise his­tor­ian observed about the pro­cess of schol­arly pro­gress: “The best we can hope for is to be wrong in new ways.” Maybe you should embrace your method :-)

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