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

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Tablets, Smartphones and Online Storage, Oh, My

I remember going to the movies to watch the Wizard of Oz when I was a child and being so afraid that I ended up underneath my seat. The things I am afraid of today are a little more complicated than wicked witches and flying monkeys, but using technology is not one of my fears. There is a tendency today to keep referring to the "younger generation" as being computer savvy and the us older folks as being sort out to lunch on the subject. The truth is, I was using computers long before any of the current "younger generation" were even born.

Whether you are old or consider yourself to be young, modern electronic technology is advancing so rapidly that you may be missing most of what is going on. This is true for genealogy as well as any other pursuit that involves electronic devices.

The fundamental issue is keyboarding (typing). If you learned to type in school or otherwise, you feel comfortable with data entry. If you struggle with typing skills, you have a more limited computer and online experience. The second great issue is the hand/eye coordination needed for the use of tracking devices. Some people can use a mouse or trackpad instinctively. I happen to be one of those people. I did not have a learning curve to learn how to use a mouse. The first time I touched one, I knew exactly how to use it. I have long since abandoned mice for trackpads. I can still use a mouse if I have to, but I can now use a trackpad without thinking about the actions needed.

The next big obstacle to electronic device integration is conceptual. You must be able to think abstractly in order to interpret and visualize the electronic universe in an understandable and very physical way. For example, if I create a file on my computer, represented by a folder icon, I need to be able to recognize this electronically created object as having some of the same physical properties as a "real" or physical file sitting on my physical desktop. This was originally called the desktop metaphor. The ability to work abstractly but at the same time think physically is a learned skill that depends heavily on innate ability. Some people can play basketball and other sports, some of us can run computers.

For almost the past twenty years, I have been intensely involved with Elder Law and as a result, primarily issues with dementia. This came about as I had family members who were challenged with the disabilities incurred as a result of dementia and professionally as I represented individuals who were subject to elder abuse. Because of my intimate contact with people challenged with mental disabilities, I realized that one of the common symptoms of being mentally challenged was the inability to conceptualize the abstract relationships of using the "desktop metaphor." The inability to manipulate information in the context of an abstract computer operating system was one of the earliest indications of serious mental disability. Using files on a computer involves a very well developed ability to rely on short-term memory.

But it is unfair and very detrimental to assume that all old people are challenged by technology, just as it is entirely unwarranted to assume that all young people are technologically savvy. I frequently hear comments from my contemporaries that show that they have "bought into" this common fallacy. When confronted with some technological problem, they say, "Well, I'll just call by son (whoever) and he will come over and set all that up for me." That may be true. You may have to rely on someone else to do things you cannot do yourself. We all have physical and mental limitations. When we moved from Mesa, Arizona to Provo, Utah, we hired a couple of "younger men" at both ends to help us move large, heavy objects such as furniture. But that did not mean that we were physically challenged. It just means that in our complex society today, we don't do everything.

If I want to get my car serviced or repaired, believe me, I could do it all myself and have for years. But do I really want to? No, I spend a few dollars and have someone work on my car. But there are many people who do not know how to change oil or replace a fuel pump, young or old. Maybe your grandson comes over and services your car, but I am not very likely to rely on any of my children or grandchildren to fix my car. Some of them could perhaps, but do not have the time or tools to do that for me. Why do we put computers into a different category than any other tool or device.

Fixing your own car is a good analogy. Is this something a "young" person who knows how to drive can do because they are young and something I cannot do because I am "old." It seems obvious that age has nothing to do with car repair. In fact, I would rather have an old mechanic with years of experience work on my car than a high school student taking motor shop. But the old mechanic has to keep learning new things to continue working on cars that are primarily functioning with electronics.

Are you the old mechanic that has kept up with the technology or the old mechanic that only works on twenty year old cars? You see, technology is technology. It is something we learn to do and adapt to.

Now, genealogists find themselves in a pursuit that is rapidly becoming saturated with technology. But this is true whether or not you are young or old. Technology knows no age. The challenges of age are both physical and mental. But guess what? Young people have the same challenges. I never had the physical skills to play team sports or to become a dentist or a surgeon. Do we all need to have the same skill set? Not at all, but we mostly all drive cars and do other things that require a set of physical and mental skills.

We need to recognize that physical and mental limitations are not directly age related. We do get old but many of us still retain the physical and mental abilities necessary to operate in the online world of computers. We also need to recognize that genealogy involves a huge skill set and that the "young" do not automatically acquire those skills simply by running a smartphone or playing video games. It is time to move on from this young vs. old issue and start focusing on teaching and helping those of all ages to acquire the skills they need to do their genealogy while at the same time recognizing that those who do not have or wish to acquire those skills need help from those of us who do, young or old.

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