This post is a belated contribution to ‘The Grand Challenges for Archaeology’, a blogging carnival organized by archaeologist-blogger Doug Rocks-Macqueen.
It’s about half-eight in the morning, and I’ll soon have to be at work. But I’m snatching a moment to blog about blogging in archaeology.
These days I’m paid to do admin, not archaeology. But the past still has a habit of catching up with me. After all, archaeology is a vocation. One cannot simply ignore it when the money stops.
It is also addictively stimulating – cognitive caffeine.
Academic pursuits such as this come at a price, of course. The problem is that, given half a chance, the past can devour the present. Research and dissemination are intellectually demanding, time-hungry activities. Time marches on. The internet can speed the process along, but also bogs the researcher down in endless links, distractions, tweets, comments, bile, graphics, videos… and blogs.
Blogs. Now there’s a mixed blessing for writer and reader alike. The so-called blogosphere: global coffee house and repository for corridor conversations, challenging insights, hot new research, sloppy spelling, pub politics, fact and factoid, enticing hyperlink roads that all lead – at some point – to Wikipedia. The busy, burgeoning blogosphere: free of charge but time-expensive, open-source but unaccountable. Anyone with a mind to blog can jump in and do it. I took the plunge, in the first instance, after being favourably impressed by the blog of a friend from the natural sciences.
A question has dogged my typing ever since: is it worth the time and effort to stay in step with the digital zeitgeist? Here we come to the crux: a grand (or navel-gazing) challenge for the online archaeologist: is my blog a real vehicle for research and education, or merely ‘go-faster stripes’? The fact that many enthusiasts and academics alike maintain blogs does not necessarily, by itself, legitimize the medium. Popularity has some force, in the cyber-democratic milieu of the 21st century. To put it bluntly, if I stop getting hits I’ll have precious little excuse to carry on – if nobody’s reading it, I might as well just keep a private research diary.
But the existence of readers still doesn’t quite answer the question: what is it for? Why, if it all, is it useful for those readers? I started blogging largely as an experiment because it seemed like ‘the thing to do’, and – flatteringly – people still read it. Colleagues at conferences comment favourably on it, often adding ‘I’d like to blog too, if I had the time.’ Indeed. I hardly ever blog these days, not because I don’t want to do so but because, let’s face it, it takes ages to write something worth reading, and there’s no obvious, tangible return from this major time-investment.
Or is there? When I get around to doing it, composing a new post exercises my writing and thinking muscles – valuable simply on a personal level, like physical exercise. As for the end result, it’s still evolving: if the blog is to have any lasting value as a form of archaeological literature, the blogger should presumably look at which posts attract the most interest, and give the readership more of that (in my case, the unexpected answer is lazy beds, corn-dryers, and the origins of farming). But this can be balanced by innovation and experimentation – testing the waters in the inherently fluid environment of the internet. This, perhaps, is the unique strength of the blog, the best way to exploit its incremental, transient/permanent, paradoxical character. It is, by its very nature, a constant work in progress – it can evolve, it can mature, in step with the blogger’s own career and changing interests, and the wider development of the discipline.
After three and a half years, Farming Unearthed is still finding its feet. Maybe it always will be.
Maybe it always should be.