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

Friday, December 10, 2010

A very strange experience

I do not spend as much time as I would like to at the Mesa Regional Family History Center, but I regularly teach classes and help patrons. We have a lot of computers for patron use and a man and a woman came into the center and were sitting down to use a computer. I happened to be the closest missionary/volunteer and so I got the brunt of their extreme displeasure. It seems that the Center has spent considerable time re-designing their start-up screen to make it easier for patrons to find and view the online resources. Before they even looked at what was on the screen, these patrons immediately began yelling about "What happened to the old menu items?" They were both actually yelling. The man started lecturing me in a loud voice about how upsetting it was to have anything change and how they would not be able to find anything. The real fact was the start-up screen had everything they were looking for. I was stopped cold by the intensity of their reaction to something as simple as a redesigned start-up screen. Finally, the woman looked at the screen and realized that what she was looking for was right in front of her. She promptly told the man to "shut up" and started working. I decided I would do something else in another part of the Center. I was also glad I was not married to either one of them.

Upon reflection, I think this reaction is symptomatic of the entire interface between technology and people's lives today. How many genealogists out there are still using Windows 95 or 98 with the same Personal Ancestral File program they started with? How many are still using Internet Explorer? I recently heard a high placed official of FamilySearch, express the opinion that he will keep using Personal Ancestral File until it dies (or whatever). In another conversation with a volunteer at the Center, the individual explained that he didn't know anything about computers and, in fact, had retired from his job as a mechanic because the new cars had computers and he didn't want to learn about them.

I do get sort-of tired of the constant background of updates, especially with all the programs I have on my computer, but I recognize that the whole system is evolving rapidly and any changes to one part of the system will usually result in changes to many other parts of the system. Genealogy is also rapidly changing due to the impact of technology. I note that the Historical Records Collections on the website continue to increase almost two or three times a week. Not all change is negative. I am always amused by those who pine away for the "good old days" when I realize that during my lifetime I have seen the transition from crank telephones and outhouses, to iPhones and really nice indoor plumbing. We really did have a crank telephone on the wall when I was young. You picked up the receiver and turned the crank and got an operator who was sitting in an office on the main street. It was not unusual, if you were trying to find someone, to call her and ask if she had seen the person walk by recently. She usually knew where everyone was.

Does that early experience with a live operator make me yearn for the simpler times? Not a bit. I really like having my cell phone to call my wife when we get separated in a store or when we are standing in different parts of the house, especially since I am quite deaf. I also really like the new programs for genealogy. I can't even imagine trying to sort out all of my huge amount of documentation using the old Personal Ancestral File program. The technological past holds no attraction for me. I get upset that I won't live long enough to see the new innovations.

So, I will keep writing and teaching and maybe, just maybe, one or two of those clinging to old technology for security, like my children's blankets, will get brave and leap into present.


  1. When I decide to quit learning, my family will be CERTAIN that I then have one foot in the grave!

  2. My biggest complaint in the new technology is the
    phone mail system. By the time I need some help and I can not find it you have to go thru countless menus when all you want to do is talk to a human being.

    The mechanical voice with "I do not understand" really drives me up a wall. Sometimes I call when I am on my work break and after navigating the lengthly voice mail system my break will be over.

  3. James - Such an interesting post on so many levels. As someone who has worked in libraries for many years, I feel your pain regarding difficult patrons. Some people are miserable, no matter what. Also some people do not like change, in technology or anything else, no matter what. Everyone is different. It all goes back to that lemons versus lemonade thing. Make mine a lemonade.

    Thanks for the interesting post.

  4. James,

    The technical aspect could be part of it but might not be everything. Consider that the couple could be feeling stress, as many people do, during the holiday season. They could also have other stresses like financial or family concerns. Sometimes it's easier to lash out at a computer when it is not acceptable to lash out in other ways.

  5. I also love new technologies, but sometimes wish I had a personal assistant whose only job would be taking care of my computers and other electronic gadgets and teaching me everything I need to know about using them.

  6. Well, at least we know what made you deaf, now. Patrons are, as Marian points out, just like all of us, subject to frustrations and responding to difficult circumstances as best we can. The Family History Center was their "safe" place to do that. It is a lot of work to keep up with technology and with change. Keeping up also requires some time and focus and sometime we just need someone to guide us along. Thanks for being one of those helpers.

  7. "The good old days"... when you had to slowly scroll through miles of microfilmed census pages trying to read poor copies of poor handwriting to find someone. Most of those "good old ways" are still available so if you don't like the new fangled technology go back to the good old days/ways.