And it's easy to see how the technologically-inclined among us are lured by the convenience of the internet, and by the expansive capacity of cyberspace, and by the amazing science behind digitization. This is the way of the future, we hear. Digitize, digitize, digitize! And back up! Not once, not twice, but three times, and update your back-ups when the technology changes or every three years, whichever comes first. Password-protect it so the bad guys can't get it. Tell someone where you've hidden the password, so they can. Oh, if only your ancestors had done that! Imagine the happy dance you would have done when your complete genealogy appeared before you on a computer screen!
Consider this: when you're watching Who Do You Think You Are?, have you ever thought they've made the research look too easy? Have you ever thought, hey, the celebrity didn't seem very excited (I recall someone saying this after the recent Tim McGraw episode)? Well, what if the scenario were this:
It's the last game of a hard-fought season, and an athletic team (the Blue-Blooded Ancestor Hunters?) suddenly finds itself short by one member. Six players are required; they have only five. You're asked to fill in, even though you have no knowledge of the game. That doesn't matter, they assure you, the real team members will carry the ball and do the scoring. All you have to do is stand where the coach tells you to, and be counted. Some sort of reward is offered--fame? fortune? undying gratitude? some skeletons for your closet?--so you accept the deal. The team wins the game, and the highly-coveted blue ribbons are passed out to everyone on the team, including you. Tell me, how meaningful is that blue ribbon to you? Isn't it pretty much commensurate with how much you've invested in the game?Some people do genealogy because it's part of their religious practice. Some do it as a vocation. Many of us do it as an avocation and, oh, how we bristle if our pursuit is reduced to the lowly status of a mere hobby! No matter which category we fit into, though, I'd be willing to bet it's the thrill of the hunt that keeps us going, and that tantalizing prospect of another happy dance possibly just minutes away.
I started out doing genealogy the old-fashioned way. It was kind of like going big-game hunting. You had to go someplace to do it; you had to learn how to hunt; you had to plan ahead for your trip; you had to pack carefully and be prepared for anything, or nothing. It was an adventure.
The advent of digitization and online availability of records has made it a lot more like shooting fish in a barrel. A search engine, a name... BANG! Oh, look, another dead ancestor... no, two... three... But the number of records extant is finite. Sooner or later, all the fish in the barrel are gonna be floating belly-up. How long will it take? Another generation or two? When the barrel is passed on to your descendants, how much happy-dancing will there be when there's naught to do but dip out a couple thousand barcoded belly-up fish? How many of your descendants will be passionate about scanning the barcodes to look up those pedigree charts that you're so passionate about preserving? In fact, how many of your current, living relatives are passionate about it now?
The techiest of the techies see the world through tech-colored glasses. Everything, they insist, should and will be virtual in the future. Maybe they're right, I don't know. But I do know that not all people are computer-savvy now, nor will they all be computer-savvy in the future. And not all who are computer-savvy prefer to spend their time in the virtual world rather than the real world. Believe it or not, Kindle fans, some people still prefer a book with paper pages. Some would rather talk than tweet. Some would even... I know this will come as a surprise... some would even prefer to receive a bouquet of real flowers from a three-dimensional boyfriend rather than a virtual-bouquet icon from a Facebook app. Go figger!
In any case, it seems to me that it's a boon for everyone when the big players go digital with their records--and by big players, I mean any organization that has a body of records of the type we all seek as documentation for our family lines. I mean people who are in the records business (whether civil or commercial, profit or non-profit).
As for me, I'm what I would call a micro-player--gathering records (from people in the records business!) that pertain to my own lines only. For me it's not business, it's personal. And I'd be lying if I said I was doing it just to pass down to my descendants. If I can stir up their interest, so much the better, but the truth is that I have a hunter-gatherer gene that's tickled by this pursuit. I do it for the pleasure of the hunt.
I have decisions to make, then, along the way. Should I listen and learn from people with more skills, more experience, more credentials? Of course. Should I be grateful for what I learn from them? Most definitely. I am grateful. It's always better to be more informed. But should I then obediently follow all their advice?
Hell, no! I'm a grown-up. It's up to me to weigh what's been offered and make my own choices. I reserve the right to enjoy and/or employ cyberspace to whatever extent works best for me, along with the right to use real paper. Why? Because at this moment I can reach across my desk and pick up a book that was published in 1884, and it still works. Nobody had to take any particular pains to preserve it, and I don't need anything but daylight to be able to use it. Am I glad there's a copy of it in cyberspace? Yes, of course I am, that's how I discovered it and decided I wanted the real thing. And, yippee!, I was able to order the real thing for $25 and about five minutes of my time online, thanks to technology. Yep, technology is great. But am I gonna digitize everything in triplicate, pay to store it in cyberspace until I die or run out of money, and replace it triennially in case it's deteriorating?
Nope. Not today, thanks. But, reader, if it serves your purpose to do so, you go right ahead!
I've been working on books this month, as usual, but have extended my deadline for completing the Stone book.
And in the other column . . .
I still haven't vacuumed yet this year. See, the vacuum cleaner needs a new belt and, while I did order and receive said belt, I am still waiting to see if it will crawl in there of its own accord, or if I'm actually going to have to find my Phillips-head screw driver and put it in there myself. I'm all for giving it plenty of time to take the initiative.