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

Thursday, May 29, 2014

For Genealogists, Are There Excuses for Computer Illiteracy?

I recently received this comment to one of my blog posts about using online sources and the need for computer literacy,
Do you first ask who has home internet access? Who has broadband access? Without broadband, YouTube is inaccessible. Remember the Nauvoo people.
Here is yet another comment on the same subject,
There's a lot of genealogical information online, it's true, and being familiar with online tools can make a genealogist's life easier, but not everyone is going to be able to make the jump into the online world. Although I'm middle-aged, I've been working with computers in one form or another since I was a teenager; I swim these seas, but those of us who were introduced later in life, or who don't have regular access (a computer in their home, connected to the internet), may struggle to stay afloat. For someone who's my age, or older, the mental gymnastics required to learn to use a computer well are sometimes (not always, but sometimes) more limiting than we realize. 
So, please, go easy on people who aren't in the know about things. We all must face obstacles in our genealogy paths, but we certainly don't deserve to be criticized for having trouble when we find the path steeper than we can manage.
 So am I being critical of people because of their physical and other limitations, such as lack of a high speed Internet connection? I guess what I see here is a reflection of the ongoing process of technological change. When I was very young, we had a crank telephone on a shared party line answered by a human operator sitting in an office facing the main street of town. If I was looking for my father or mother, I could call and ask her if she had seen them pass by. We also had a wood burning stove. I watched my neighbors install indoor plumbing for the first time. I think I can say a little bit about the impact of technology. But there is a deeper issue here.

Using a computer takes a special set of skills. I can also relate to those who have physical limitations, I am partially deaf, cannot see as well as I once could and have joints that don't work so well either. In other words, I am a certified member of those of us experiencing being "later in life." One skill I acquired early in life was how to type. That particular skill has been one of the few lasting benefits I gained from going to high school. I certainly realize that not everyone has the same level of skills, for typing or whatever, that make it easier to acquire computer knowledge. What I do see constantly is an attitude that rejects the technology that is very prevalent among older genealogists.

Our society has come a long way in accommodating those with physical or other disabilities. But we have a lot longer way to go. The real question, however, for the individual is whether we use those physical and mental limitations as an excuse or a challenge to overcome. My comments are aimed that those in the genealogical community who do not try to overcome their limitations or even worse use them as an excuse and simply ignore the new technology.

I spend the bulk of my time helping older people with genealogy. I do not criticize anyone for their limitations. I am willing to patiently help anyone who is willing to learn. I do not think that having a negative attitude about technological change and rejecting obvious advantages is something that should be overlooked or excused. I recognize my own physical and mental limitations and try to work around them. The commentator describes people who are trying to overcome disabilities, not people who are not particularly limited but reject technology out of some other motivation.

If I am out hiking around in a national park, I often come to signs that say that a path will not accommodate those in wheelchairs or otherwise disabled. Some would use that notice as an excuse, others would see that notice as a challenge. Genealogy doesn't come labeled with such notices, but maybe it should. Parts of genealogy are difficult for everyone, no matter what our status in life. But that should be viewed as a challenge, not as an excuse.

1 comment:

  1. I am in process of updating [Titles listed alphabetically by year]: . . .

    I found the following of interest, as it relates to your commentary:
    . . .
    - Scenario-based design of a digital reminiscing system for older adults

    For example many sites allow individuals to share photos (Flickr, Facebook, Photobucket), movies (YouTube), and small details of their daily lives (Facebook, Twitter). However, none of these systems were developed specifically for the support of reminiscence activities, nor do any of them cater to this type of sharing. Previous research has explored systems that allow children and elders to develop oral histories (J. B. Ellis & Bruckman, 2001); that enable community members to construct an online community history (Carroll, Convertino, Farooq, & Rosson, 2011; Carroll, et al., 2009); and that support creation of biographies on DVDs to assist elders with declining memories (K. L. Smith, Crete-Nishihata, Damianakis, Baecker, & Marziali, 2009). However there is still relatively little known about whether and how older adults might want to reminisce in a digital environment, particularly in an era when Web 2.0 has greatly expanded options for content generation and authoring. It is in this context that this study looks at means for digital reminiscing.