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

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Learning to live with technology

It seems to me that one of the most common barriers to a genealogical researchers' full integration in the current genealogical community is lack of computer skills. There is an underlying assumption that there is a correlation between computer skills and age, but I find deficient computer skills at all ages. Simply because of the demographics of genealogy as an interest, I see more old people than younger ones with computer challenges. But if I teach a class of teenagers or young adults, I always find a significant percentage without the requisite computer skills to be comfortable searching on the Internet. As a matter of fact, with younger computer users, there are major differences in computer availability and competency due to income and social position. See for example, Attewell, Paul. Disadvantaged Teens and Computer Technologies. M√ľnster: Waxmann, 2003.

I have written about this a few time previously, but the computer skills challenge is brought up to me frequently as I assist patrons at the Mesa FamilySearch Library. This past week, I taught a class on using mobile devices for genealogy. I spent more than an hour explaining how to use tablets and smartphones than anything directly related to genealogy. In the end, after the class, some of the participants followed me to the main research area, where the class continued for some time.

So the question I propose is: Should we, as genealogists, be teaching computer skills along with our classes in genealogy? Last week I had a very nice class at a retirement RV park here in Mesa. The participants were all above average computer literate. The class was on blogging but the questions I got indicated that despite their level of sophistication in computer operation they still lacked understanding of some of basic concepts of how social networking and blogs work on the Internet. At the same time, genealogical database programs are adopting some of the characteristics of social networking. I say this as I receive regular email messages from online databases informing me that someone else online may have information about my ancestors.

What I am saying is that a common lack of computer skills at all ages is a hinderance to many people's involvement in the current world of genealogy. The FamilySearch Libraries are a good example of the complete integration of technology in the day to day process of genealogical research. On some days, especially in the winter, literally every single patron computer in the Library is being used. But if a patron refuses to use a computer, there is very little we can do to help the person with their genealogical research without doing all the online work for that person.

Another obvious fact is that there are millions of users of Personal Ancestral File (PAF) that have not upgraded from using it as their main database when the program was discontinued in 2002. I find the major reason for not upgrading is a lack of computer skills; not understanding how to migrate the data to a new program. Fear of losing their data in a new program stops a considerable number of people from trying or using any one of the newer database programs. This fear comes from a lack of fundamental computer skills.

So, we have two fronts. Youth who lack computer skills obviously are not candidates for helping with genealogy and older folks who lack those skills are locked into a world without online resources to help them with their research. Perhaps we need to start teaching how to use computers and not just for genealogy?

1 comment:

  1. Having done the same and continue to do so, I think that if you are up for the challenge, it is critical to share your knowledge and expertise, especially when it comes to mixing technology with preserving family history and memoirs. It is my passion in life to help people have their say and to help them preserve their own history to not only help themselves and current family and friends, but for the big picture. Imagine how easy our research would be if our ancestors had left behind their stories stored in a more permanent form.

    Just another reason why I so love the power of social media, citizen journalism, and blogging and web publishing!