How much of our time every day is now consumed by labor saving devices? In genealogy, computers have not really saved much of the labor of compiling information, but they have made it easier and faster. Is getting more work done in the same time a virtue? But how much technology is enough? When do more devices and more gadgets start taking more time than they save?
When I first started practicing law back in the Dark Ages, we did almost everything by hand or manual (electric) typewriter. Producing a letter could take an hour or longer if there were revisions. I can now bang out the same type of letter in finished format in about five minutes. The same thing was the case in genealogy. I had to insert a blank family group record and then type in the information, being careful to stay in the little tiny boxes that were provided. I had to abbreviate almost everything, just to get basic information in the box. ( As an aside, guess what? Even though we have computers and programs to store our genealogical data, some people are using those tools in exactly the say way they used a manual or electric typewriter).
I am now doing things I never dreamed of doing just a few years ago. I can get free copies of original source records at the click of a mouse or the tap of a touchpad. The list of things I can do today that I couldn't do just a few years ago is huge. So which, if any, of all the high tech, labor saving devices are actually helpful to do my genealogy? Are there any of them I can do without?
Here is my list of the most important electronic gadgets in the order of their importance to me. This list is highly personal and you may have a different opinion.
1. There is no question that my number one most important electronic gadget is a computer, which includes monitor (screen), keyboard, mouse (and/or TrackPad) and various hard drives. The computer should have adequate memory and speed to do virtually everything electronic. The reason is plain and simple, I could not and would not be doing what I am doing without a computer. My Great-grandmother did genealogy for 30+ years and ended with three copies or more of almost her entire work. Why? Because beyond a certain point, manual databases become unmanageable.
2. The next most important thing is a fast Internet connection. The reasons for being online and using the vast resources now available are, to me, self evident. Almost everything I do every day as an individual, a businessman, a member of organizations, a writer and all of my other roles, depend to a greater or lesser degree on an Internet connection.
3. Moving on to the next most important level of device would have to be having multiple computers. I carry a laptop with me almost all the time and especially when I go to the Family History Center or to any other genealogy related activity. Even though the Family History Center has computers, I use the convenience of having my own computer handy anytime I have time to do my own work.
4. Next, a digital camera. I might put having a digital camera number one except for the fact that I can't do much with the images without a computer and a network connection. Digital cameras and the programs to manipulate the images have revolutionized the photographic process completely.
5. Smartphone. I happen to have an iPhone, but would use an Android phone if I needed to. I find this tool to be indispensable. I have all of my genealogy files on my iPhone and use this reference frequently. The number of useful apps is phenomenal. As an example, I used RedLaser today at Home Depot to check the price of replacement garage door opener. I can imagine living without a smartphone but choose not to if I can help it. Yes, having a smartphone increases my productivity in genealogy. I can take a photo instead of writing out notes when doing research. I can use the GPS etc. and etc.
6. On the list is a scanner not necessarily less important or less useful than the other devices but dependent on a computer. I have been moving documents into my computer for years. The results is a much more efficient way of finding a document rather than searching through folders and boxes. I will continue to use my scanner regularly and would replace it if I needed to.
What I haven't listed is software. Of course computers and everything else is not worth much if you don't have the software to run it. Listing all the software I use is outside the scope of this post. Maybe some other time.
Does using the things I have listed qualify me as a geek? Yeah, probably. Do they all help me do my genealogy more efficiently? You bet. Would I go back to the "good old days?" Not on your life.