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

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Understanding Technology

Computers and related devices have become ubiquitous in our society and pervasive in genealogy. But there are those who equate the ability to use a computer with knowledge about how to do genealogical research using a computer. This is sort of like assuming that you can become a mechanic by learning how to drive a car. This prevailing assumption is most evident when you talk to older genealogists about the computer abilities of their children or grandchildren.

From another point of view, there are still those individuals who presently profess to do genealogy without the benefit of any electronic devices and, at some level, it is still possible to find some types of information without recourse to using a computer or the Internet. But doing so is like saying you want to do genealogical research, but don't want to go into any of the libraries or other repositories. This attitude is extremely limiting. This is becoming more true as many resources are becoming available only on the Internet. For example, as the Family History Library and digitize their collection of microfilms and books, both media are being retired from active service either at the library or to rent. 

But, asking the question again, do younger people who use electronic devices automatically know how to do genealogical research? Of course not. There are really three different things going on here: the learned ability to use electronic devices, the learned ability to do genealogical research and the learned ability to do genealogical research on a computer and use the Internet. That is three different skills. In each of these categories of skills, there are a multitude of sub-skills that also have to be acquired. For example, I was recently trying to fly some airplanes using a flight simulator program on my computer. I was crashing everything. My oldest grandson took over and flawlessly flew everything. He had his own flight simulator and had been practicing. But all of the other grandchildren present did worse than I did. So there is nothing magical about knowing how to use a computer that suddenly makes you able to use a flight simulator. By extension, this same principle works with genealogy and computers.

It seems somewhat obvious that knowing how to operate various types of electronic devices, such as computers, smartphones and tablets, would give you an advantage over someone who does not know how to use these devices. But which is more complicated? Learning how to use computers or learning how to do genealogical research? I vote for genealogy being extraordinarily more complicated that using a computer. Just as being a mechanic is more complicated than driving a car. So then why do so many older genealogists express frustration in using computers and the other devices?

I would guess that most proficient genealogists spent some significant time learning how to do genealogical research. They likely read books or attended classes on genealogy to become proficient. But how many of those same people who profess frustration at technology, have spent the time either reading books or attending classes about how to use computers? I suggest that those who do study it out are not the ones complaining.

Most of today's computer users are self-taught. This alone would be a guarantee that their understanding of computers, for the most part, would be deficient and likely shallow. Learning anything as complicated as computers and genealogy requires a consistent effort at education and practice. If you find yourself frustrated with technology or talk to others expressing the same frustration, simply ask yourself or others this question: How much time and effort have you spent in classes, reading books and other types of education about using computers?

1 comment:

  1. This past Tuesday a man about my age stopped in at our monthly genealogy group meeting. He was trying to find his ancestors. We suggested that he go to the library and look on Ancestry, he said he did not have a computer. All of a sudden it dawned on me he did not know how to use a computer and probably never used one at all.

    I suggested to him to write everything down he knows and then to go to the local LDS Family History center and perhaps they could help him.

    I can not even imagine trying to do Genealogy without computer skills.