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

Friday, July 4, 2014

The Only Constant is Change

I got a notice of yet another update to a genealogy program and during that same time, I was reading a book about the changes in the Internet or World Wide Web. This got me thinking about change in general and specifically about change in the genealogy world. I would guess that there are more changes waiting than we have already seen. I think Franklin Delano Roosevelt said it well in his First Inaugural Address:
So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.
I think this pretty well sums up a lot of genealogists' attitude towards change. Maybe it comes with age, maybe not. I have grandchildren who can't deal with any changes. They get upset at the slightest difference in their daily routine. All I can say is if you don't like change, you are going to live a hard life. Let's look at some of the changes we have to go through to adapt to the modern 21st Century genealogy world. I can talk about this with some slight authority since I have lived through the entire process.

We started out with paper forms. In my case, thousands of family group records, pedigree charts, and boxes and boxes of photographs, letters, diaries, journals, certificates, business records, and on and on and on. I thought the photo above was a pretty fair representation of where I was when I started entering all that into a computer. I had two things going for me; I learned how to type in high school and I studied languages in both high school and the university. Why do I mention these two? Because they gave me some basic skills that I put to good use when I got my first computer. I was already more adept at typing that handwriting and I wasn't put off by all the computer jargon.

When I was very young, many women didn't drive cars and some women considered typing to be a manual labor fit only for people who "had to work" for a living. I had several close relatives in both categories. I remember my mother learning to drive (pretty scary) and she never did learn to type. Unfortunately, there are a lot of men who learned how to drive but didn't ever learn how to type. Computers are not much of a time saver and are very frustrating to anyone who has few keyboard skills.

But as time passed, it became evident to me that the shear volume of information generated by genealogical research had to have a solution. I saw that solution, in part, in computerizing all of my records. Later, I moved on to digitizing all of my documents. Do I have to remind you that all this means change in a big way. But the changes did not stop there. The driving force for my accepting each level of change going along was time. As each new computer and program came out, I saw that they worked faster. I got my first Apple II computer in about 1982. It was not until the present iMac 2.66 GHz Intel Core i5 that I finally got a computer that could work as fast as I can.

Now, what happens if you haven't gone through 50 or so computer models? What if you are walking into the Apple Store or the Microsoft Store or some other retailer and buying your first computer today? Major change in your life. Apple used to try and sell its computers as "user friendly." That was almost as much of oxymoron as selling genealogy as easy.

I still talk to a residual group of genealogists who bought into the computer world at some point and then refused to change. They maintain the first computer they ever owned running the original operating system and Personal Ancestral File and they will argue with me as long as I want to talk about it, how this setup suits them perfectly well and they don't need all of the bells and whistles of the newer programs. Well, yeah but then along came the Internet.

I have moved to Provo, Utah which has the distinction of being one of the three initial Google Fiber cities in the U.S. We are talking here of speeds that are so far past what is presently available that there is no comparison. Here is a quote from Google:
One gigabit per second (Gbps) is a 1000 megabits per second (Mbps) connection. A gigabit is 100 times faster than the Internet connection that most Americans have today, allowing you to get what you want instantaneously. You no longer have to wait on things buffering; it’ll be all ready to go when you are. So whether you are video chatting, uploading family videos, or playing your favorite online games, all you need to do is click and you’re there.
A good analogy would be my current situation with my garage full of boxes from moving. The old systems are like trying to get a car into my garage. The new system from Google is like having all the boxes put away.

Why is change a problem? Most people naturally resist change. Genealogy is a comfortable persuasion because it has essentially changed very little for over a hundred years. If a person living today, say around 70 years old, learned how to do genealogy when they were in their twenties, they can use almost everything they learned back then today with no problems except where genealogy meets technology. Then you are caught up in all the changes I have mentioned above. 

Is there a solution? Only on an individual basis. I have worked with many people both young and old, that were so motivated by a desire to search out their ancestors, they were able to make the changes necessary to work with the technology. But I still have people confide in me that they are terrified of computers. The main issue is change. Absent some physical limitation or another, the main obstacle is fear of change. What do I suggest to those who are either unable or unwilling to change with the times? I suggest making good friends in genealogy who will help you get all of your work preserved. 

Meanwhile, my computer is getting older each day. I see new operating system releases on the horizon. I suspect that my computer may last one or two more operating system upgrades and then it is out to pasture for the old machine. I am still waiting for Google Fiber to be hooked up in my neighborhood. They say sometime in August or September. That may keep me going for a while, meantime my biggest challenge is still the shear size of my files, presently the backup is 3.2 TB. I am looking for 6 TB hard drives to come down in price. Maybe something will come along and solve the problem with Flash memory or something else. Well, I have to go and update my genealogy program. It is always a new day and a new program or computer.


  1. You hit it on the head James - motivation!

    My father left school when he was quite young, and never did any higher-level schooling, but when he retired he took a cast-off computer from my sister and taught himself. He's nearly 80 now but he maintains it himself, installing/uninstalling stuff, does his own backups to external drives, and regularly makes up CDs/DVDs. He said he will take some old, and irreplaceable, VHS tapes I have and convert them to DVD for me when I visit next.

    His motivation was not genealogy -- he leaves that to me -- but he doesn't like "mystique", and he wanted to scrape away all the levels of hype and jargon until he understood what it was basically about. He regularly comments on my blog, too, although very few of his comments are printable -- he tends to tell it like it is!

    ...there's encouragement here for everyone over a certain age :-)

    1. We can all contribute, even if not through "traditional" channels. Thanks for the comment.