On May 15 2005 Kerim posted the first entry on Savage Minds — a blog which in the past 5 years has grown to over 1,500 entries and over 12,000 comments. Although its hard to make time to blog when you are raising twins and applying for tenure simultaneously, I didn’t want to let the opportunity of our fifth anniversary — ‘wood’, apparently — go without taking a moment to reflect on what a strange and wonderful experience this blog has been.
When we began this blog five years ago we thought (if I can remember correctly) that the anthropology blogosphere was slowly coalescing and we wanted to have a hand in shaping in it. This was the period after the first full flowering of blogging, before the term came to mean either ‘narcissistic discussion of laundry’ or ‘pugilistic political commentary’ — a time when blogging seemed to offer a kind of rich, substantive intellectual debate that the academy promised but often didn’t deliver, and that people who were erudite but uncredentialed craved.
Since then a lot has changed — at a basic level, just who is blogging on SM has shifted over time. To put it simply: it is very very hard to write continuously for five years. Some people have burned out, some have decided (quite sensibly) it was a quixotic waste of time, others simply found that when push came to shove they weren’t up for it. We at Savage minds often worry that our authorship is not diverse enough — that there are not enough women and ‘of color’ people contributing. But — let’s face it — it’s hard to get anyone to agree to sign up for regular blogging when all of us have so many other things on our plates.
We have also changed in terms of our personnel identities. When this blog started we were all basically graduate students with all of the free time and desire to procrastinate that being a graduate student entails. Since then we have finished our degrees, not finished our degrees, gotten tenure, not gotten tenure, gotten married, gotten divorced (or at least broken up with loved ones), and added — if I am counting correctly — at least four children and one golden retriever to our families. Graduate school, famously, is the place where you have to figure out if the lifelong commitment you made when you were in your twenties is a lifelong commitment you want to make when you are in your thirties. We have grown into this blog the same way a lot of people grow into their career — in fits and starts, encountering it anew as both we and it change, managing reconciliations, making adjustments, imagining new configurations.
The context we write in has changed as well. The anthropology blogosphere has metastasized from a close knit and robust group into a field that has grown large and fragmented — a sure sign of success! The physical anthropology people have their thing, the archaeologists blog more closely about the anthro/arch headlines than we do, the business/consulting ethnographers are a force unto themselves, the leftists have their own outraged constituency, and there are now a growing number of graduate student (and even undergraduate student) blogs.
Our professional association (at least in the US) has also seen some changes — after the early promise of AnthroSource, the AAA’s lack of capacity (and the fact it is ruled by staff rather than anthropologists) has led to a major collapse in its ability to move the discipline forward. These days AnthroSource is just a website that times out repeatedly as you attempt to read back issues of Anthropology News, and our journals are now under the control of Wiley-Blackwell. The good news is that change is slowly taking place — after years of wandering in the wilderness the AAA finally has a decent PR apparatus in the form of its blog, and the official website is only slightly suck. The Open Access ferment of a few years back (which has died down as we go through the eye of the needle of tenure — expect more shennanigans when we hit mid-career) has resulted in a genuine and deep change in people’s expectations about publications. Moreovee, while anthropology professors still expect important decisions to be made in secret, the high-table theory crowd has recognized that the Intarweb is cool, which means that blogs like this are seen as bleeding edge, not merely the home of strange, eccentric pariahs. Around the edges of official paralysis, section websites and collaborative online projects are slowly, slowly growing — a very good sign indeed.
And of course now it is no longer just the blogosphere. Anthropologists have brought their snobby and exclusive networks online in the form of awkward friend requests on Facebook, Twitterdom has a large and active anthropology component, and the Open Anthropology group has a really blossomed into a warm community — albeit one whose interface, I’m ashamed to admit, I’m still learning to use. In fact there is now pretty clearly a group of Usual Suspects who show up at every possible technological innovation and start figuring out how to use it. Thus we had, for instance, everyone we already know on Google Wave looking at each other and waiting for someone to say something.
In the final accounting, ‘saying something’ is what has been at the core of this blog and enabled it to be successful. You can talk about the institutional positioning of the authors, the affordances of the technology, and whatever else you want, but at the end of the day what makes me most proud about SM and what leads it to be (I think) a success is that fact that we consistently produce decent content and then allow people to talk about it. We are not perfect. Our entries are not always well-written, well-thought out or (especially in my case) well-spell-checked. The comments sometimes attract people who lower the tone. But at the end of the day, no matter how quickly Twitter can furiously link to URLs of articles and news stories or how many prom pictures get posted to Facebook, SM is a place where we speak, at length, about things that are important to us. And there is no substitute for that level of engagement, even if it is always only imperfectly achieved.
So on our five year anniversary I’d wish the anthropology blogosphere five more years of ‘content’: good, substantive thought designed to enrage, enlighten, amuse, provoke. It hasn’t been easy to keep this blog going over five years and my data trail embarrasses me at times, but I can’t imagine a better way for it to have gone — or any other way I would like it to go for the next five years. Gratz to Kerim, Chris, Dustin, and everyone else who has been along for the ride. It’s been a blast.