Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Saturday, October 6, 2012

What if you don't know how to use computers?

You might think the title of this post to be somewhat silly question to ask in a blog post and to some extent you would be right. But I would guess that nearly everyone reading this post knows at least one person (probably a lot more) who have no or very limited computer skills. How does one go about learning computer skills? Especially at an advanced age?

I would guess, to some extent, those genealogists who say they prefer paper are really expressing a discomfort with computers and/or a lack of computer skills. I enjoy walking but I would not consider walking anywhere in Phoenix, Arizona over driving a car, especially when it is over 115 degrees outside. You may not be acquainted with Phoenix (or Mesa where I live) but this is a city of vast distances. Close is considered two or three miles away, not next door. We routinely drive to stores ten or more miles away. It is a city of freeways and streets spread over hundreds of square miles.

Computers are like that. You can avoid them to some extent, but in today's genealogical world, working only on paper is like trying to walk everywhere in Phoenix. 

It may be obvious, but it needs to be addressed, that computer usage is primarily a skill involving hand/eye coordination and keyboarding (used to be called typing) skills. Like any other physical skill, there are vast differences in any particular individual's level of confidence. But computer skills can be learned and even acquired at almost any age. Unfortunately, some people have physical limitations that make using either a keyboard or a mouse painful or impossible. But even here there is a solution. Almost all the necessary functions of operating a computer can be done by voice commands or other forms of input devices. The key here is desire and determination. Here is a link to get started with this aspect of computer use:

Working Together: People with Disabilities and Computer Technology from the University of Washington.

In fact, there is an annual conference called Closing the Gap on providing professionals, parents and consumers with the information and training necessary to best locate, compare and implement assistive technology into the lives of persons with disabilities.

In reality, most of the people I know with limited or no computer skills an attitude issue rather than limited physical ability. My maternal grandmother lived well into the 1970s and died in 1980. She would never consider riding on an airplane during her entire life. In fact, she would insist on riding a bus all the way across the United States, rather than board an airplane. I know people who have the same fears or attitude about computers. I am not sure there is much that can be done about helping people who do not want or recognize the need for help. Unfortunately, there isn't any add-on device you can buy or software that changes an attitude or phobia.

There is of course, a valid argument to be made by those who choose to use some paper methods of keeping family records, but genealogical research has now firmly moved into the online/computer age and as time goes on, the involvement of computers will only increase, not decrease.

Is computer use an age related issue? Are genealogists just old so therefore they haven't learned computer skills? I find many young people, teenagers and those in their twenties, who lack basic computer skills. Again, using a computer is a skill and unless you have both the opportunity and interest, you likely have not acquired the skills necessary to use a computer. Assuming that just because someone is young, they know how to use a computer is not a valid conclusion.

What about that much smaller category of people who lack the skills but are willing to learn? Motivated by their desire to do genealogy or whatever, they can find a multitude of options for learning the skills necessary. For example, here is a post called the "Top 8 Websites To Help Senior Citizens Obtain Basic Internet and Computer Skills."

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