Is a computer for genealogy really necessary? This question is often asked at genealogical conferences and at genealogical computer seminars. The answer is not as cut and dried as one may wish.
Certainly, we have seen quite a change in modern technology including the development of the personal computer system. Even with this in mind, genealogists have spent a tremendous amount of time in recording family data through traditional manual record keeping methods. To each of us there comes a moment of decision as to whether or not a computer would be more advantageous than traditional recording methods.Back in 1987 Personal Ancestral File was only in version 2.1 for DOS, Apple PRO-DOS and Macintosh. In the Microsoft world OS/2 was released in 1987 and during the same year, Microsoft shipped Windows 1.01. The World Wide Web was not invented until 1991.
Ironically, many genealogists are still asking the same question 26 years later. That the question is still a serious issue is interesting in light of the fact that we now have people who were raised with computers in their home who are turning 40 years old and older. Apparently there is some considerable doubt as to whether or not a computer is more advantageous than traditional (i.e. paper and pencil) recording methods and as I deal with researchers day after day, I find that this question is far from settled. There are still those who resent, oppose and actively denigrate computers.
Frequently, I am faced with people who proudly claim that they have no computer skills and do not intend to acquire any in the near or distant future. If you haven't run into these folks, you need to seriously consider expanding your circle of acquaintances. In the past, I have labeled them luddites, but I think that the issues are much more serious that an economic opposition to mechanization. Even in light of the expansion of online databases, is there some real advantage to computerization? Depending on the number of individuals and families, it is conceivable that a paper system would be at least as efficient as recording the same number of individuals and families on a genealogical computer database program.
Judging from the amount of paper hauled around by researchers who are also carrying laptop computers, I suggest that many of us are still in the transitionary stage. We like computers and use them a lot but can't quite free ourselves from the vassalage of paper. I think some of us who use computers to an excess cannot imagine survival without one. But those not wedded to the computer are still in the exploratory stage of their relationship.
If you are still using a paper based genealogy system, it is unlikely that you have a lot of similarly situated people reading this blog. Considering the fact that when I teach classes on blogs, I nearly always find that a majority of the class is entirely unaware of the online genealogical blogging community. Even sophisticated computer users who are genealogists are unaware of genealogy blogging. I have a good friend who is very adept with computers and has a significant involvement in genealogy who commented after seeing my recent Webinar on blogging, that he had no idea of the amount of involvement, which translated out to mean he had never read any blogs.
Is there a solution to the problem of resistance to computers in genealogical circles? Is there even a problem to be solved. Won't the problem just go away when the number of computer devices exceeds the number of people in the world? Which will likely shortly happen. With the an attitude towards learning and innovation, such a person can be taught to use a computer. But it takes more than a few classes and some rudimentary motivation. It takes a lot of hard work on a computer, day and night, for months to gain proficiency. This may be and likely is, an investment that some people will never make.