Blogging Archaeology Week 2 — The unexpected consequences of blogging
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.
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.