Over the last week or so, I’ve been thinking a good bit about the future of this blog. I’ve been writing this blog for 10 or 11 years or something, and I’m starting to feel that it has strayed pretty far from its original intent. Or maybe it hasn’t. Maybe it is the context for the blog (and maybe blogging in general) has changed over the last decade.
I know for certain that my position in the field has changed and in academia has changed, and, as a result, my priorities have changed.
I also know that all projects should come to an end and, sometimes it is better to fade away rather than burn out.
This is what I’m thinking:
1. Internet Culture has Changed. Over the last year or so, I’ve had a few missteps in managing my online persona. Some of these are more visible than others for casual readers of this blog. For example, this summer, I responded a bit too assertively to an article.
More recently, I was scolded by a couple trusted colleagues for responding a bit too puckishly to scholars on social media. In hindsight, I was clearly in the wrong and more than a bit tone deaf to both the medium and the particular conversation (and this isn’t the first time that I’ve been a bit off base). More than that, I responded in haste like I would in a casual conversation over beers rather than in a deliberate and thoughtful way. So not only were my comments hasty but they were unproductive as well. From the start I viewed social media as a kind of casual space designed for playful banter (something like the banter one has at the bar at an academic conference), but if we’ve learned anything from an armada of Russian bots, social media is much more than that. There is probably less space in it for my silly (and largely selfish) sense of humor today than there once was. People are doing serious work in social media and my fucking around is not helping.
At the same time, I wonder whether there is less space today for a blog like this. I’ve always seen it as a platform for the informal exploration of ideas, for half-baked throughs, and for intellectual ephemera. But as many of my colleagues have demonstrated – especially lately – blogs should do more than just serve as a platform for my assorted ramblings or as a self-indulgent expression of my puerile personality. More to the point, I worry whether continuing to write this blog runs the risk of diluting the good work that other folks are doing in this media. Things done changed.
2. Professional Persona. When I started this blog (approximately 2500 posts and a million words ago), I felt pretty marginal in academia. I was an Assistant Professor at a school on the edge of the frozen prairie. I worked on Cyprus and the Late Antique and Byzantine period. I was a specialist in material culture and archaeology in a history department. Even the archaeology that I did – intensive pedestrian survey – stood at the margins of conventional archaeological practice. I was relatively un-published and anything I wrote could be easily dismissed as the inconsequential thoughts of a junior faculty member at University of Southern North Dakota at Hoople. This gave me a good bit of cover and allowed me to cultivate a persona grounded in alternative practices whether punk archaeology or my overly enthusiastic embrace of blogging.
While I hate to admit this, I am no longer at the margins of my profession. I’m certainly not at the center or even a central figure, but I can no long indulge my vox clamantis fantasy. I have too many conference papers, invited talks, articles and books, and various other academic gewgaws to be a genuinely marginal figure in my field. I’ve run my own project, I have tenure, and I even have two dogs. With my professional development, however, comes greater expectations, and, as I asserted in point (1), probably requires me to embrace a greater seriousness of purpose in my online persona. This really struck home when in a debate this summer a scholar pointed out to me in a twitter thread that my position and academic credentials give much greater platform to assert my views.
It goes without saying that as a tenured, married, middle-class, white, male my very identity carries additional authority in public sphere. Even my scruffy beard and largely unkempt hair reinforces my academic credentials in an inescapably masculine way. My interest in stereotypical male things, from my editorializing on sport on my Friday Varia, to my fascinations with high-end stereo gear and fancy watches subtly (and unintentionally) assert my position as a male scholar.
My position then as a mid-career male scholar with tenure means that, whether I intend it or not, people take the things I do seriously. Even ideas and projects tinged with a bit of intentional frivolity, like Punk Archaeology, have attracted serious academic attention (and this has been remarkably gratifying to me!). More importantly, by taking on the role of editor at North Dakota Quarterly and developing the profile of The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota, I’ve accepted responsibility as a steward of other people’s work. My frivolous behavior online and the half-baked ideas spewed forth to the world from this blog could reflect poorly on other people who have trusted me to promote and support their ideas.
I guess all this is to say that I need to grow up or at least acknowledge that I have grown up and start to behave more like a profession and less like a failed graduate student or a former age-group swim coach (which is how I’ve always thought of myself).
[As an aside, I’m increasingly anxious about the book I just had published on the Bakken. It was very much experimental in approach and content, but in today’s increasingly politicized culture (and extractive industries in North Dakota are nothing if not political) a book like this might be seen as poking the bear rather than a genuine academic exercise. While I’m not worried that the book will cause me discomfort, I do worry that it might cause other people discomfort from my colleagues (by association) to folks who work hard to represent the University of North Dakota in a positive light in the state. I don’t want to say that I regret having written so publicly on the Bakken, but it can’t shake the idea that there is a time and a place for everything.]
3. The Food is Bad and the Portions are Tiny. Over the past couple of years, the number of page views on my blog have declined steadily from usually well over 100 a day to just over 80. On the one hand, maybe this does say that my ideas are genuinely marginal, but it probably suggests that they are increasingly banal and the blogosphere has more appealing options. The decline also reflects my reluctance to Tweet or Facebookle my daily posts out of concern that some half-baked thought upset or annoy someone.
I know that the internet is not, strictly speaking, a zero sum game, but I wonder if people who are reading my blog are people who are not reading other much better blogs out there. A year or so ago (and I can’t find the post), I got to thinking about how to ramp down a project or transform it when it no longer is working. The decline in readership, the change in online culture (and readers’ expectations), and my changing professional status have made me really think that this blog has more or less run its course.
That being said, I do like to write this blog and like to write in general, and I’m pretty sad at the thought of bringing it to an end, but maybe I’ll figure out something else to do that fills my morning and gives me a space to work out ideas in an informal voice that is less public, less frivolous, and less fraught.