One of the most surprising developments in the evolution of the FamilySearch.org Family Tree is the swift incorporation of record hints and their amazing accuracy. This past week, as usual, I had the opportunity to teach a class of people who had almost no experience with FamilySearch or the Family Tree program. In giving them a brief overview of the Family Tree. I showed the class the Record Hints. A hint came up with a reference to the Social Security Death Index or SSDI. One of the class member's father showed up in the SSDI.
The class member noted that she did not know the names of her father's parents. I immediately suggested that she order her father's Social Security Application Form that could contain the information she needed about his parents. She and the other class members were amazed that the Family Tree program would give this and other information automatically. The class member who was looking for her father commented on how much time and effort this feature would save.
In the world of technology, we have a group of people who are called "early adaptors." These are individuals who take advantage of technology as soon as it is introduced, even when it is experimental or not completely developed. The early adopters are about 13.5% of the population. People who act even before the early adopters are called "innovators" and comprise only about 2.5% of the population. Likewise, we have a significant group of people the fall in the "early majority" (34% of the population) and about the same number (also 34% of the population) who fall into the "late majority" of technological adopters. The last group, comprising about 16% of the population are referred to as "laggards." See "Innovation and Early Adopters: Beyond the Bell Curve." The problem with this analysis is that the only individuals measured are those who ultimately adopt the technology.
In the case of programs such as FamilySearch.org's Family Tree, I suspect there is yet another category that falls outside of the entire technological world. I call these the individuals, "outsiders." These are people who never even become aware that the new technology exists. They can be defined as outsiders because they lack involvement or interest in the subject of the technological development. They may also be lacking the education or economic means to acquire new technology. It is hard to determine how many people or even what percentage fall into the outsider category because, by the very nature of the category, they are not counted in any way. For example, with FamilySearch.org and the Family Tree program. There may be huge measured increases in the use of certain parts of the program, but short of doing a huge, direct survey of people at random, there is no way to tell from the increase in usage how much of the increase is reaching into the outsider category.
When the outsider is exposed to the new technology, they reject it. Some of the people I have seen do this for the simple reason that they have no keyboarding skills and do not know how to operate a mouse. According to the publication of the National Center for Education Satistics, Adult Literacy in America, from 21% to 23% of the adult male population of the United States are functionally illiterate, i.e. demonstrated skills in the lowest level of prose, document, and quantitative proficiencies (Level 1). The challenge here is that people lacking basic information skills are not going to use or appreciate the value of a highly developed technology such as the Record Hints in Family Tree because they are not going to become aware of the technology at all.
When we talk or teach about what seem to us to be fabulous new technologies, we need to be painfully aware that there are major segments of our population who do not have the interest and/or the skills to appreciate the value of the technology, or even less the ability to adopt it. Family History should be designed to be more of a mentoring program, where those with the skills to do the research and record the names etc. help those who do not have those advantages.