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

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Is technology really a help or just more noise in the channel

In telecommunications, the channel noise level is the ratio of the channel noise at any point in a trasmission system to an arbitray level chosen as a reference. In genealogy the channel noise may be anything that is a distraction from doing research on your family lines. Telecommunication channel noise may contributed to transmission errors or even a blocked signal. In genealogy, if there is enough noise, you may not get any research done at all. So what constitutes channel noise for a genealogist?

In some cases, technology itself can become a form of channel noise to accomplishing basic research. For example, when I turn on my computer in the morning (yes, I am one of those who turn the computer off and on) I find my iGoogle page with Google Reader of the overnight blog posts and some news from a news reader. Almost always, I am instantly distracted. Of course, I have to see the latest developments in genealogy around the world such as's purchase of ProGenealogists and other such happenings. Before I know it, I have spent a half hour or more and gotten no work done at all. This morning it was reading about someone falling off a cliff at the Grand Canyon. Not a very productive work topic.

Because I am partially deaf, I have no problem tuning out a lot of physical background noise. But at the same time, I have so many opportunities to be distracted by the remaining technology, my iPhone, the iPad, the TV with cable, the computer with iGoogle, that sometimes I find I have spent hours and not accomplished a thing. It doesn't help that I also have so many audio files, pod casts and images crammed onto all my computers and iPhone that I could listen for a month without repeating or read books for the rest of my life.

So how do you get control of the technology and not be controlled? As a society we are not very good a controlling our compulsive behavior. According to Nielsen Media Research's latest report, the average American household watches 8 hours and 15 minutes of television in a 24-hour period. The average amount of time per individual (over the age of 2) is about 4 and a half hours or over 35 hours a week. According to Nielsen, 59% of the population surf the Internet and watch TV at the same time. Now, if you measured my own TV time, it would probably be less than 5 hours a week, but if you factor in my time on the computer, the total might be over 40 hours a week. In any event, every hour spent watching TV is basically subtracted from your life's ability to do more genealogy.

There are a lot of online helps for controlling a TV habit which for many has become a serious addiction. But as genealogists, we need to understand that we all have a limited amount of disposable time to spend doing research. Watching TV or being involved in other non-directional entertainment media, subtracts time from that available for research. If you do have a TV habit, try reading some of the self-help material online. Here is an interesting article about breaking the TV habit.


  1. For myself, I do not watch TV. When I was 12 we got our first television BUT we weren't allowed to watch it.

    I will watch the TV before I go to sleep, and sometimes I am sorry I did.

    I work in an OR and am not connected to the internet at all during the day.

    I have Verizon as my phone provider and REFUSE to buy a phone where I have to agree and pay for a $30 monthly fee. If you add up all the customers times $30 that is quite a bundle of cash.

    But once I am home I also sit and check my email and blogs and I do get distracted by Channel Noise. But, one the other hand I learn a lot of information.

  2. James,
    I thought the folks who offer the TV programs were doing a great job of weaning folks from the 'tube', as what they offer today is not worth my time to waste! On a few occasions I will just veg in front of the set, more or less resting with my eyes open. BUT for time away from living, the computer and all its Genealogical offering has complete control of my life. Not all addictions are bad, are they??

  3. The dismal content of most television channels these days is doing a great job of breaking me of the TV habit!

  4. I got rid of my TV years ago, but then spent much of the "missing" time on the net reading Blogs and attending to emails and work - now I only read the Blogs that really interest me and unsubscribe from those that don't. I look out for new Blogs but limit my time on a daily basis and keep emails short and to the point, otherwise there would be no time left...