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

Monday, March 21, 2011

The impact of technology on genealogy and other subjects

A post by Anne Roach on her Blog, The TechnoGenealogist, called RootsTech: A Replacement for Genealogy Conferences? and the comments made by readers got me thinking. Of course, that is a problem because when I think I either start talking or writing. However, I was too tired to think and so I started to listen to Pandora. After quite a long nap, my brain started back up again which is always a dangerous thing. At this point Pandora was influencing my thinking quite a bit.

When I was young I used to listen to the radio. Even though there are those that think radio hadn't been invented when I was young, I spent a huge amount of time listening. I even had time, when I lived out on the Colorado Plateau, to listen at night. You could only get one really bad radio station during the day, but when the sun went down you could hear stations from all over the country. I spent a lot of time listening to KOMA in Oklahoma City. As I grew older, I lived in Panama. Because all the radio stations were in Spanish and the music was pretty limited, I got a Zenith Transoceanic Radio. It was back to variety and radio stations all around the world. Time and technology marched on. Commercial radio got more and more marginal. I listened to a lot of National Public Radio, both news and classical. I really missed the variety of listening to the world's music however. Then I discovered Pandora. There really is a variety of music left in the world. Now I have even stopped listening to classical music on NPR. I only listen to news. But with Pandora, just like up on the Plateau in the night, I can listen to the world; to anything from Keola Beamer to Sam Cardon and Kurt Bestor. I can listen to Inkuyo or Inti-Illimani; Dolly Parton or The Chieftains, to Tommy Makem or Leo Kottke.  Technology has opened the world to me and what is more surprising I can listen on my iPhone any time, almost anywhere. As a matter of fact, over the Internet I can listen to almost every station in the world.

OK, interesting maybe, but what does this have to do with Anne Roach and RootsTech. Everything. Technology and the Internet has opened up the world's music to me. I no longer have to listen to what some disk jockey in Phoenix thinks I should listen to. I have the ultimate choice of what and when to listen. Unless you have listened to music like I have, not just as a background, but really listened to music all of your life, you couldn't begin to appreciate what a huge impact this has on my musical life. I don't have to listen to some endless classical piece by Gustav Mahler, I can change stations and listen to Enya or Glenn Gould, Sissel or Jerry Douglas. I can listen to Doc Watson and then switch to The Beatles.

The same exact thing is happening to my genealogy. I am no longer stuck in Phoenix with no major genealogy research library. I can travel instantly to the Family History Library or the Library of Congress. Admittedly, there is a lot more music online than original source records but the technogenealogists are working hard to catch up. I can do research in Argentina or Zimbabwe. I can literally travel the world from my computer. Not only is the whole world open to me as a researcher, I have the tools to find it all. I can read whole books that have been locked away in an obscure library some where in the Midwest and in a few seconds be looking at original U.S. Census records.

As with all change there is a tragic side. The tragedy of music is that even though there is a whole world of music out there literally at my finger tips, most of the world has no idea of the riches lying right next to them. They are content to listen to trashy elevator music or enervating pop rather than Jerry Garcia. Just as the technology starved researcher is content to copy from some user submitted family tree rather than enjoy the real pleasure of original documents.

But won't I drown in the ocean of variety? Isn't there too much to comprehend both in music and in genealogy? Have you really heard Jerry Garcia? Not the Grateful Dead, I mean the Jerry Garcia Band. This is what I mean, once you understand that technology isn't an end, it is a means, you can move on to the enjoyment of what technology produces rather than fighting with it and ending up figuratively listening to some garbage can commercial radio station. Is all the music in the world online? Not. Is all the genealogy in the world online? Not. But that does not diminish the advantage of what is online.

Some time ago there was a Bruce Brown movie called The Endless Summer. Two surfers toured the world looking for the perfect surfing spots and enjoying an endless summer. The is the Endless Summer of genealogy. I can surf the world of genealogy without ever having a winter to dim my research efforts.


  1. Never knew you had such a musical side, James. Thanks for a thoughtful analogy. Isn't life grand?

  2. Thanks for mentioning Pandora. I was getting my world music fix through some online order companies, iTunes, and YouTube, but it is always nice to find another place to sample new things. I think you're right about the "tragic side" - people really are missing out on some great stuff.

  3. Great post and comparison...I was a medium wave DXer for 30 years in a former hobby before the internet.

    Myrt - I've found that James is a bit deeper than myself and many of our colleagues. His writing is pretty good, too!