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

Monday, July 8, 2013

Genealogy's Great Divide: Adopting Computers

There is a great divide in the genealogical community. The divide is between the computer users and those, who for whatever reason, are either non-users or significantly resist the use of computers. Resistance to technological change has a ancient and storied history and the manifestation of that resistance in the area of genealogy is merely a minor side-show to the main event. Resistance to change is characterized as a natural outcome of human behavior. In an article entitled "Resistance to Change" from the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, the authors listed six basic reasons for the inability of some to adapt to changes. Taking some license, I have re-phrased some of the reasons cited in the original article which pertained to transportation, to adapt them more specifically to genealogy:
  • When the reason for the change is unclear.  Ambiguity--whether it is about costs, equipment,  or tasks, change can trigger negative reactions among genealogists.
  • When the genealogists have not been consulted about the change, and it is offered to them as an accomplished fact.  People like to know what's going on, especially if their major activities may be affected.  Informed genealogists tend to have higher levels of satisfaction than uninformed genealogists.
  • When the change threatens to modify established patterns of working relationships between people.
  • When communication about the change--timetables, personnel, monies, etc.--has not been sufficient.
  • When the benefits and rewards for making the change are not seen as adequate for the trouble involved.
  • When the change threatens the genealogist's status quo. 
I would add that resistance to technological change is evident whenever a genealogist does not possess the basic skills, such as typing, manipulating a mouse, memory retention and reading comprehension that are necessary to feel like a successful technology user. If you would like to read another list of reasons see A. J. Schuler, Psy. D. "Reistance to Change." Dr. A. J. Schuler is an expert in leadership and organizational change. To find out more about his programs and services, visit or call (703) 370-6545. Schuler lists ten reasons for resistance that center around the way people feel. 

Whatever the motivation for resisting change, it is a given fact that a significant portion of the genealogical community will continue to stay at whatever level of involvement they have obtained and will oppose any alteration in their own personal status quo

Perhaps the problem with this situation is that it is viewed as a problem by others more accepting of technology. I had a short discussion today with a patron at the Mesa FamilySearch Library who was a professed Personal Ancestral File user and was inquiring which program would be the best one for her niece. In the context of the conversation, she adamantly refused to consider moving to another program. She was perfectly happy to consider the change for someone else, but not for herself. 

I grew up when many women, especially mothers with small children, did not drive cars. There was obviously no compulsory reason that forced them into the marketplace to work and the family only owned one car and so the husband drove that one car to work. Even by 1960, only about 39% of the women in the U.S. were registered drivers. See Gender and Automobility. Selling Cars to American Women after the Second World War. My own mother did not learn how to drive until sometime in the 1950s. In addition, because of cultural bias, she never learned to type. Typing was seen as "menial" labor done by the "lower classes." Many people, especially those who are older, lack any formal training that included keyboarding. I happened to take typing in high school, but it was not required for graduation and it was considered a non-academic class, i.e. taken by those who were not college bound. 

If you think about the sociological and cultural issues involved in the resistance to technology, you can see that the problem is really quite intractable and unsolvable in many cases. It would appear that the reasons for the divide between users and non-users of technology in genealogy is something we will have to live with until long after I am gone from this world. 

1 comment:

  1. I am interested in the fact that typing was considered unnecessary for the college-bound in your high school days. I was encouraged to take typing in high school BECAUSE it would help me produce good papers in college! (I went to high school in the early 40s). Mid-west versus west? St. Louis city (then one of the 10 largest cities in the country versus suburbia? Probably no one will ever know.