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

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Fitting the Tools to the Task

If any of you have experience fixing a dripping faucet over the years, you realize that years ago, you could use a wrench and screwdriver and replace the washer in the faucet and fix the problem. Today, almost all new faucets come with special cartridges and it takes a special tool, in addition to a wrench and possibly a screwdriver or two, to fix the leak. Without that special faucet tool, the job is virtually impossible.

Now, as usual, you are probably trying to figure out what this has to do with genealogy. Well, the answer is pretty simple. At one time, you could do genealogy with a pencil and piece of paper. Some people would argue that you still can, but in reality, there are a lot of specialized tools needed to do the job today. One example will suffice, the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah has been digitizing its collection of books and microfilm for a number of years. As books and microfilm are digitized, they are are no longer kept on the shelves or available to order (in the case of microfilm). So, now, just to view the microfilm or digitized books, you need "specialized equipment" such as a computer or other device and a connection to the Internet.

Of course, you could reject technological changes and ignore all of the online resources, but sooner or later, just like with the leaky faucet, you either have to obtain the tools to make the repair or hire someone to do it for you. Unfortunately, there are some people who ignore the problem permanently and refuse to "make the investment" in technology, just as there are those who choose to live with leaky faucets. There are excuses. One common issue is economic. Adapting to technological change is viewed a expensive and a luxury. This is an issue of which I am painfully aware. Genealogists today (although this may change) are usually older and at or near retirement. Many live on fixed incomes. But on the other hand, those who plead poverty, are usually unaware of the alternatives available for free computer use at libraries and family history centers.

Now we could keep arguing about economics, but these arguments are essentially correct. Being involved in genealogy costs time and money. It is not a particularly expensive activity compared to many very popular activities today. From another aspect, the tools used for genealogy, such as computers, mobile devices, an Internet connection etc. are also general purpose tools. In my case, my wife and I do not have or pay for a cable TV connection. Likewise, we do not have separate land-line telephone service. We very rarely eat out and we do not attend movies or other paid-for entertainment regularly. Some people would be unwilling to "give-up" those activities and services. We don't really care about them and do not feel disadvantaged in any way.

On the other hand, I believe in having good tools. A cut-rate, second-rate tool is sometimes worse than no tool at all. We likely spend much more than the average person on computers and the associated software and external devices. We probably use those computers and other devices much more than the average person does also.

I think that it is important to fit the tool to the task. If there is a tool that will help me do a job faster, easier, better or at all, then I see the tool as a benefit, not an extra cost. Sure, I could hire a plumber to come in and fix my leaky faucet and pay a $100 or more or I could go to the store and buy the $12 tool and the $25 cartridge and save my money. From another aspect, there is no way I could be writing this blog post without the proper equipment.

I look at tools as facilitators. Desktop computers, laptops, tablets and smartphones all facilitate my genealogy work. By maximizing the use of these tools, I maximize my genealogical efforts. These devises and the software that goes with them, are the power tools of my avocation. Sometimes I buy a tool, such as a software program, and some time later, I find out that there is a better program (tool). So, I try the new tool to see for myself. Yes, there is a cost associated with this, but remember, I am allocating time and time to me is more valuable than money. Sometimes the new program moves into my arsenal of tools. Sometimes the new program is a dud and I quickly move on to another program or back to the original one.

If we understand that the technology is the tool and that the computers and other devices are the specific tools we use to do genealogy, then the idea of upgrades, technological changes and other issues begin to take on a proper perspective.

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