24 October 2013

Technological Divide in Genealogy -- Yes, it does exist! What might we do about it?

The Digital Divide and The Complexities of the Digital Era, http://spotlight-universityofbedfordshire.blogspot.com/2013/02/the-digital-divide-and-complexities-of.html

A few weeks ago I read a blog post by James Tanner (Genealogy’s Star) titled Can we overcome the Great Genealogical Divide? which really resonated with me.  This was probably because I had just hung up the phone after talking with a client who does not have e-mail or a computer (barely has cell phone service as he lives so remotely) to suggest that he take the DVD I just sent him with over 600 images of family documents to a Kinkos or similar to get print copies made. A really nice client, who by choice, lives a low-key lifestyle in the wilds of Maryland.

Then I got to reminiscing about other recent clients I have worked with recently which include:
1. clients who have no computer and even no e-mail account – so we talk via phone and/or communicate using snail mail
2. clients who have an e-mail account and no computer -- they access e-mail via phone or at a library periodically
3. clients who have e-mail and a computer but no internet access – so we talk via phone and/or communicate using snail mail
4. clients who may have e-mail, a computer and internet access and for whom health issues increasingly prevent them from using such for any length of time
5. clients who never learned to type and so only use the phone or written correspondence to communicate

And the list goes on of those who do not get their genealogy “fix” online nor by using online resources, at home, as a tool.

These are not always the oldest in our community. Many are those who have chosen to have the technological umbilical cord that many of us are now attached to or many who live in areas with limited access to the internet, etc.

Are we increasingly excluding them from becoming involved in family history research?  Are we (the genealogy community) doing them a disservice by assuming that they are technologically literate? We frequently talk about all the podcasts, webinars, programming, databases and more available online.  What if there is no “online” for someone?

I was fortunate to learn typing in high school (on an old-fashioned typewriter) and then shared that skill with my husband.  He, the computer engineer, is always current on computer technology and has kept me abreast of that world (why else did we build a house over 20 years ago with cat 5 cable running through it that we installed?).  Never mind that my dad (see picture below) in the 1960s and until he retired, worked with some of the newest generation of computers (the type that take up whole rooms) and so for my whole life I’ve been surrounded by technology-minded men!

Warnaco News, January 1973 -- my Dad, Richard Acey
Because of this, I do take for granted that I know how to type and with speed and have worked with computers for over 30 years and with the internet since its creation.  And, it’s easy for me to forget that my situation is not that of others ...

What can our genealogical community do to embrace “everyone” interested in researching their family history? 

Have you or a local society taken steps to assist in helping the technology-free or technology-illiterate become more comfortable with computers, genealogy software and/or the internet?  What have you done?  What would you suggest to others interested in attempting the same?

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