The real issue is the ascendancy of social media as the communication venue of choice for much of the younger population. For the past year, I have been conducting oral interviews for preservation in the Special Collections Library at Brigham Young University. Some of these oral interviews lasted as long as eight or nine hours. I guess that this experience makes it difficult for me to reconcile the limitations of social networking content with the need to preserve an adequate record. In addition, I am looking at a stack of books about genealogy including several extensive family history books. Most of these family history books, chronicling many generations of selected families, exceed 500 pages in length. Most serious genealogical researchers find that they are very quickly buried in paper.
Are we willing to sacrifice the rich content of our family histories merely to accommodate the limited attention span of the Twitter generation? Perhaps, we should consider how we are going to preserve family history in the light of the popularity of the program such as Snapchat. Here is an explanation of Snapchat from Wikipedia:
Using the application, users can take photos, record videos, add text and drawings, and send them to a controlled list of recipients. These sent photographs and videos are known as "Snaps". Users set a time limit for how long recipients can view their Snaps (as of September 2015, the range is from 1 to 10 seconds), after which Snapchat claims they will be deleted from the company's servers.Certainly, we need to address the more serious question of how we are going to preserve the records of a generation of people whose main records in life are preserved in bits and pieces online. It might be helpful to realize that Snapchat reach the level of 6 billion videos per day in November 2015. Genealogists wring their hands over the loss of a few records in a courthouse, when we are losing 6 billion records a day after 10 seconds. Most users make no effort to resolve the problem of preserving their family records located on Facebook or other social media venues.
No matter what we think about social media, the issue of the evanescence of historical content is not new. We merely need to remember that all of the lifetime of conversations between our ancestors is forever lost. Perhaps, you have a copy of a telegraph message sent by an ancestor announcing a birth or death. The rarity of these messages is a graphic illustration of the problem faced in the future and reconstructing social media. Absent some spectacular method of reconstruction, I believe that virtually all of the content of the social media will be lost. For this reason alone, I would strongly limit efforts to expand the inclusion of some social media as a basis for "doing genealogy."
The reality of the present situation is that absent a concerted effort to move the content now presently available in the social media to a more permanent venue will result in its loss. Encouraging genealogical content to be shared in social media ignores this reality. We should be implementing pathways to allow those whose primary contact with the world is through social media to easily archive and preserve genealogically significant content. This is especially true where the content is primarily based on oral communication. We sometimes fail to recognize that much of the world's history is still contained in the minds of the family members. We need to be more proactive in capturing oral histories. We also need to recognize that much of social media falls in the same category as oral histories and will be lost absent our preservative efforts.