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

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

It's time to push ahead with technology and stop being pulled

Are you one of those people who feels overwhelmed by technology? Perhaps you are not just a passive recipient of technological change, but an active luddite decrying the changes and advocating a return to the simple, more pastoral days before computers? There is a refrain from a popular song by Bob Dylan (originally Robert Allen Zimmerman, b. 1941 Hebrew name שבתאי זיסל בן אברהם [Shabtai Zisl ben Avraham])
Come gather 'round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
You'll be drenched to the bone
If your time to you
Is worth savin'
Then you better start swimmin'
Or you'll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin'.
The Dylan song refers to political and social change, but both of those blow past genealogists; it is the technological changes that make genealogy's older demographic go off the deep end. The inexorable march of digitization and online programs forces even the most reluctant genealogist to acknowledge that genealogy is indeed changing and doing so rapidly.

It is time to face reality. Technology, i.e. computers, are here to stay and are going to be a more important factor in genealogical research. There are ways to learn and grow with this new technology. In one of my last posts, I wrote about the issues raised by the nearly constant changes to's Family Tree program. Some of the reactions to these changes include anger, frustration, exasperation, despondency and other negative emotions. Rather than seeing the changes as an opportunity to grow and develop new, more efficient methods of finding ancestors, many people reject the changes and cling to their paper records as if they were some kind of totem that would make all the changes go away.

Granted, there are both positive and negative aspects to the technological changes. At the time I am writing this post, I am sitting in the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah. As I look around, I see six people with all of their research spread out on the tables. All six are in the "older" demographic category. Each of them is completely absorbed in their work. Three of them have computers and three do not. The ones without a computer are hand copying records from books. I decided to walk around the library on the 3rd Floor and see how many other patrons were working on computers vs. those who were copying records by handwriting. The results of this straw poll were overwhelmingly in favor of computers. I did not count the people who were here working on the Family History Library computers, but only those who had their own laptops. There were 21 people using computers and only 6 who did not have a computer.

But even though many of the patrons were using computers, that did not mean they were happy doing so. Maybe those who complain to me about technology are simply in a very small, but vocal, minority. But my point is that we should not be so much reacting to technological changes as we should be anticipating them. It reminds me of my grandmother who I never saw drive a car. In fact, I was quite old when my own mother got her first driver's license.

Another impression from the Family History Library here in Salt Lake is the increasing number of patron computer stations. I am aware that the Mesa FamilySearch Library, where I used to serve, will be remodeling their entire facility during the weeks between Thanksgiving and the New Year officially from Monday, Nov 24, 2014 through Saturday, Jan 3, 2015. One of the main changes will be do nearly double the number of computer stations. This is the reality.


  1. "six people with all of their research spread out on the tables. All six are in the "older" demographic category. "

    Mind you - it's amazing the number of pixels you can get on a table top!

    1. Notwithstanding they had laptop computers, each of them was surrounded by huge piles of paper. It is interesting to contemplate.