Monday, November 25, 2013

Archaeology Blog Carnival

From now until the April 2014, I am going to be participating in the Archaeology Blog Carnival - “Blogging Archaeology”. From what I can tell, this is a bit of a meta- enterprise in which we write about the process/practice of writing about archaeology. Ill be interested to see how the questions evolve for I fear the degree of meta-ness may produce a bit of self-indulgence and navel gazing. I suppose, however, that the “carnival" provides a forum for folks who are blogging out there in the blogosphere to share some perspectives on their writing habits. We shall see. We even get a twitter hash to use: #blogarch.

The question for November is: Why blogging? – Why did you start a blog?

I began blogging mostly as an experiment and to see what all the hoopla about “blogs” was about. I certainly did not start writing to broadcast a specific message or to report on anything in a consistent fashion (as a review of will show you). From what I had read, the blog medium seemed to be a great way for sharing information and  as an academic, sharing has direct value. It is clearly beneficial to us to share information in as many media forms as possible as measures of academic success center around how many people share the ideas that one has originated (via citation analysis, for example). Of course, sharing is not the only property of value for ideas: they also have to accomplish something. If academics were all about sharing, science (at least) would be an enterprise that encourages Kardashianism rather than the generation of knowledge. While I know that in some areas of the anthropological realms sharing may be the only value held (I’m looking at you faux French philosophers), I choose to believe that knowledge ultimately trumps sharing by itself. Mendel clearly had the latter down but knew nothing about marketing, not that it mattered in the long run. The best situation occurs, of course, when both sharing and knowledge can be merged. The Mars missions, perhaps, are good examples of how the work of scientists can find its way into everyone daily informational lives. Of course, the value of the sharing can be maximized when the sharing occurs between professionals/academics since those individuals not only appreciate what we each are doing but have the opportunity to put shared knowledge into practice. But the value of sharing also goes to those who are just interested or simply wonder where tax dollars go.  

The blog world is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of new ways of communication. Give the rapidity of change in the way in which we share information, it behooves all professionals to become familiar with new media forms, if only to ensure that one's message has the best change of being heard. It remains fairly clear that dead-tree media still retains a core value in the academic world, but the degree of centrality is slipping rapidly as electronic media becomes a larger part of one’s research base (and the holdouts retire). Blogging is a way of exploring digital means of sharing with low cost and low overhead. 

Blogging also gives one a way of sharing ideas that ordinarily do not qualify as material for the standard range of professional publications.  Beyond just the yammering and sharing of groovy photos and whatnot, one can discuss technical details that are difficult to share in traditional academic media. For example, I just wrote about my work on building a multispectral camera based on Raspberry Pi ( How one goes about building and tinkering with such a camera is not ordinarily material that is going to get a journal editor (at least in archaeology) particularly excited. Yet the technology (being inexpensive and opening doors to entirely new ways of studying the archaeological record) can be transformational. So blogging becomes a way of sharing this kind of information. 

In addition to being a platform for discussing technical details and geeky stuff, blogging is also an interactive platform. Individuals can respond to posts or pose public questions to authors that would otherwise be impossible. This interaction can lead to debates, clarifications, or collaborations — all of which mirrors the real kind of interaction that goes on within the closed doors academia but at a dramatically faster pace and with enormously expanded inclusiveness. No longer are some hand-picked crew the only ones allows to write critiques about an article (e.g., the Current Anthropology CA Treatment): everyone can get engaged with academic dialog (for better or worse). Given that the interaction is public (and not some private email chain) and  the publications are nearly instantaneous, the blogosphere opens new doors for enhancing information that exist in other formats (such as dead trees).  For example, I recently responded to a critic about our moai transport work and answered questions that were posed. I like to think that blogging such interaction enhances the value of the publications and contributes to make the ideas clearer.  

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