Monday, May 1, 2017
Genealogy One Byte at a Time -- Part Three
I really haven't decided that this is a series. It may be more like different chapters in a long book. The theme here is that genealogy is changing and becoming more of a technical skill rather than a purely academic one. Today, I was helping a technologically challenged individual make some corrections in the FamilySearch.org Family Tree. HIs challenges came from both a lack of keyboarding skills and an inability to understand the process of correcting the data in the Family Tree. As he struggled to understand the concepts implicit in the Family Tree, I began analyzing what he would have to learn in order to feel confident in working online with any program such as the Family Tree.
The basic question here is why not just give up on the technical part of genealogy and use paper and a pencil to compile your own personal and very individually maintained family tree? Chances are very good that, just like this person today, you would be redoing work that had already been completed and was available online. In this particular case, FamilySearch Record Hints and a simple search in the FamilySearch records were available and when examined not only helped to correct his existing entries but immediately began extending his family lines. According to what he was saying, he had viewed the missing information as a dead end for some considerable time.
Fortunately, as genealogists, we are not competing with anyone. Everyone can do as much or as little as they like. But the technological juggernaut is entirely up to speed. This problem is generally called the "digital divide" or the difference between people who use computers and mobile devices on a regular or daily basis and those who do not. In a real sense, those on the non-technical side of this divide are losing ground faster than they can imagine. There is a tendency among those who write about the digital divide to categorize people based on race, gender, and educational attainment when decrying the effects on our society. But in the genealogical community, the division or divide is more frequently attributed to age. The most divisive of these is the lack of keyboarding (typing) skills.
But you might be surprised to learn that one of the biggest obstacles to keyboarding skills lies with the young. Typing or keyboarding is no longer taught in most schools. See MIT Technology Review, "Out of Touch With Typing." From my own perspective, as I have written before, one of the few things I learned in High School that has stayed with me all my life is my ability to type. Of course, there are many young people who do learn to type. But looking at old people and concluding that their inability to use computers is caused solely by their inability to use a keyboard and mouse is simplistic, to say the least. If keyboarding is a challenge to anyone, old or young, then genealogy as it is practiced today, will also be a challenge.
Mouse or trackpad skills are also a challenge. It is sometimes painful for me to watch someone, again old or young, who struggles with a mouse or trackpad. I have written about my conversion to a trackpad on several occasions. See, for example, "Let Your Computer Do What It Does Best -- A Cautionary Tale for Genealogists."
The caution here is not to take a sanctimonious attitude and dismiss those who are challenged. My point is that genealogy is a set of skills acquired over time and that this set of skills is evolving in response to technology. In the not too distant past, whether you could type or use a computer had no effect on your ability to do genealogical research at a very high level of competency as measured at the time, but as technology has changed, so has the skill set required to do genealogical research.
Perhaps the next time you think about involving your children or grandchildren in genealogy, you will stop to find out if they have some basic computer skills before assuming that since they can text rapidly on a smartphone, they have all the technical skills necessary to begin to use the online genealogical resources that are now becoming ubiquitous.
If and when you are confronted with someone of "a certain age" that has difficulty using a computer, perhaps you might offer to help them input the data and make the corrections rather than dismissing them as incompetent.
Here are the previous posts in this series