Neville Morley has recently written about the demise of the classical blog Antike und Abendland; his thoughts have been taken up by David Meadows of Rogue Classicism. Central to both of these posts is the question of what blogging is actually for – why do we academics, classicists in particular, do it? Neville suggests that A&A demonstrated a seriousness of engagement that its British equivalents don’t pull off, while David again raises the flag for blogs as a serious work-in-progress platform, for sharing the sort of thing that you might find in a Classical Quarterly Note. This all raised some fairly heated debate on Twitter; it seemed that reflecting on what I think this blog is for would be as good a way as any to mark the transition into the New Year.
To begin with, I had best point out that I am a highly selective Luddite. I do not own a touch screen anything, nor even a Kindle. This Christmas marked the first time I have bought anything from an Apple store, and even then it was a gift card for my parents to use with their Christmas iPad. I am the only member of my family not to have a smartphone or Blackberry – mine is sufficiently primitive that while it can make calls and cope with text messages, anything else is out of the question, and that’s the way I like it. So when I choose to adopt new tech, I do so after thinking about why I should bother with it in the first place. The very first post I made on this blog addressed some of those questions. I had identified three key things I wanted this blog to do – talk about my transition back to the UK from the US; talk about my research; and reflect on my teaching.
The transition part of that is now more or less done with; the reflective teaching still goes on; and I’m starting to get better at talking about my research (see, for instance, Defining the Family or Seneca and Writing for Multiple Audiences). But that original post may have been a little bit disingenous, because it doesn’t reflect the amount of time I spent thinking before starting this blog. I’d been on Twitter for a year, and had worked out that there were things to say and share about my work that could not be said in 140 characters; I even did some reading on social media and brands to work out whether this was in fact a sensible move (and conclusions from that research delayed me starting to blog for that year while I experimented with Twitter). I came to the conclusion that I was not going to get the kind of engagement that Neville and David both want to see – the sort of deep, sustained, detailed feedback that I expect from my writing group – from the blog platform.
I have no problem with that. The purpose of the blog, for me, is ultimately about raising my profile – letting people know who I am, what work I’m doing, what I think about it, and (more recently) trying to explain some of the key concepts and problems that I’m grappling with in my research. Part of that profile raising is because of doing the PhD in the States, and needing to make myself visible to the UK academic community one way or another. But another part of it is involved with making contacts with people so I know where to go in order to start more sustained conversations. It’s also worth noting that I get a lot more feedback for blog posts over Twitter than I do over the blog itself – that is where the conversation about Neville’s blog post got going, not in his comments!
On some levels, I do want this blog to showcase the ‘serious’ research that I’m doing, as well as the ‘classics out and about’ material. (There’s obviously some overlap here as my research does look at classical reception, but I digress.) I’m still working out the best way to showcase that research, partly in terms of finding an accessible way to write about it, and partly in identifying blog-sized ‘chunks’. But I’m also aware that this is never going to be the central venue for sharing my work, and that what gets put here is inevitably going to be partial. I’m not so sure I mind. Apparently the average life cycle of an academic-ish blog is about two years. I’m just over the year and a half mark, but I get enough pleasure out of doing this that I’m intending to stick with it – just because the comments don’t tally up at the bottom of the page doesn’t mean people aren’t reading. I’m as guilty as anybody of that – I read plenty of interesting posts, nod my head sagely, and then don’t comment because I have nothing to contribute beyond *nods sagely*, and that’s hardly contributing to a high standard of academic debate.
But perhaps I’ll close this post by sharing the conclusions I came to with Diana Spencer over Twitter about this topic. Twitter works well as an environment for those of us academics who are time-poor – we can share thoughts without feeling as if we’re somehow lacking or not participating in the Grand Debate because of that handy 140 character limit, even if an original blog post is much more substantial. I know that I now rely on Twitter to point out to me things that are worth reading rather than subscribing to individual blogs, simply because it’s a more effective use of my time (in that vein, see this post on using Twitter to curate academic content in a more thoughtful and deliberate way than I do). It’s probably not a surprise that as it is in the nature of Twitter to take off the pressure to scintillate, more debate and discussion happens there. There’s a complicated interplay of various platforms going on here – I suspect part of the challenge of the next few years will be working out how, as a discipline, we make use of those intersections to our collective benefit.