Thursday, December 15, 2011

Genealogy and Backward Compatibility

 I "unplugged" a bit last weekend and logged on Sunday night to find the genealogy community in an uproar! I'm a little late to the party but for what its worth here is my take on the whole thing.
(I'll say up front that I am an Official Rootstech Blogger and received a free registration to the conference. I did not, however, receive a gag.)
So here is what I think is going on.  There are really two issues.  The first one was brought up by Thomas MacEntee in one of his excellents posts on this subject.  There is a raw nerve running through this country right now...the perception that the ordinary American is getting screwed over and losing control over things that are important to him.  Touch this nerve at your peril as several companies have discovered, Netflix being a prime example. When a company (or a conference) are perceived to have arbitrarily handed down an edict from on high...well let's just say there can be a signficant blow-back.

The second issue here is the changing roles of "old" technology..i.e. books and print versus "new" technology.  And this debate isn't restricted to genealogy...all forms of print media are being challenged. People are asking "why do we need libraries/books now that we have the internet and computers and e-readers?"  The generation that is now coming into it's own, politically and career-wise have spent their whole lives adapting to rapidly changing technology.  It's what they know. The problem comes in when people assume that level of expertise is the norm for everyone.  Many of the people using  libraries these days are either low-income or elderly.  The lower income folks want to be connected to technology but cannot afford computers or internet service.  They go to the library to use the public computers instead.   The older folks have a different issue.  They don't understand technology and have massive doubts about their ability to learn the skills they are increasingly being forced to use. I don't know the percentage of the American population these last two groups represent but I'd guess that its considerable.  Add in the immigrants with language barriers and those of us that are digitally "connected" start looking the minority!  In spite of that, governments and companies are completely abandoning traditional methods of communication for digital methods.  For example,  a couple of years ago the state of Oklahoma decided they would no longer provide paper income tax forms.  This was not a big deal to those of us who file online anyway.  But for the aforementioned groups this has been a huge problem especially for the elderly.  Again I think there is that assumption that its easy for everyone to operate in the digital world when it is really only easy for the person or entity making the decision to do so. 
There is a great divide in our society.  Not between social classes but between folks who have the expertise and resources to access technology and folks who don't.  Those of us..genealogists included...who make use of the digital world have an obligation to reach out to people who, for whatever reason, can not.  At the very least we should not take away the tools they do have!  How unfair! 

If computer manufacturers can put floppy drives on computers for 20 years after they have become obsolete we can surely have some backwards compatibility where people are concerned.

1 comment:

  1. Yes. Yes. And Yes. Nancy, you've made some excellent points here, and I couldn't have said it any better.



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