Genealogy from the perspective of a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon, LDS)

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Waking up to technology

The diffusion of innovations according to Rogers (1962). With successive groups of consumers adopting the new technology (shown in blue), its market share (yellow) will eventually reach the saturation level. Based on Rogers, E. (1962) Diffusion of innovations. Free Press, London, NY, USA
I recently read the following:
For years there has been a theory that millions of monkeys typing at random on millions of typewriters would reproduce the entire works of Shakespeare. The Internet has proven this theory to be untrue. 
I guess I would paraphrase that old saying into the following:
There is a theory (my own) that millions of genealogists typing at random on millions of computers will eventually produce a unified family tree. The real Family Tree has proven my theory to be untrue.  
In reality, since the input to the Family Tree is not random, and further, given the fact that all of the entries in the Family Tree can be edited and corrected, the production of a unified Family Tree is certain. Another certainty is that technology will continue to evolve and that there will always be some individuals who will be late adopters or laggards. This is not a theoretical issue. One of the most repetitious issues that I face in helping people with their family history research is a lack of computer (i.e. technological) skills.

If I seem to address this topic regularly, it is because I am reminded of the issue almost every time I start working with a new patron at the Brigham Young University Family History Library. If you study the graph at the beginning of this post, you will see that the yellow line measures the % of market share of a given technology. What is interesting from my own observations from working with patrons is that the nice symmetrical bell curve of the diffusion theory simply does not apply to the adoption of technological innovations in the area of family history and the use of the new technology (such as the website and the Family Tree program) never gets past the early adopters. To illustrate this, here is another quote from Benjamin Franklin:
To get the bad customs of a country changed and new ones, though better, introduced, it is necessary first to remove the prejudices of the people, enlighten their ignorance, and convince them that their interests will be promoted by the proposed changes; and this is not the work of a day.
We have over a hundred years of doing "family history" as certain way and changing the attitudes and prejudices of the people will take much longer than "a day." I am reminded of the Children of Israel who wandered in the wilderness for forty years. I certainly hope it will not take that long for the majority of the members to adopt the Family Tree as a completely new way to do family history.

In this regard, I suggest that diffusion theory, or the theory of how an innovation is communicated through certain channels over time among the members of a social system, (See Rogers, Everett M. Diffusion of Innovations. New York: Free Press, 1983) is highly applicable.

Let me propose a hypothetical situation (any resemblance to reality is intentional). Let's suppose that only a certain small number of people in any given society will be interested in or pursue with any consistency serious historical investigation of their ancestral lines. Let's further suppose that doing family history research is moderately to very difficult. In addition, let's suppose that the entire field of family history research is in an accelerated state of technological change. If I assumed these conditions, I would expect that only a very small number of people would ever adapt to those technological changes. The main reason for this is that the motivation to make the effort to adopt the new technology would only be present in the small number of researchers who were interested enough in family history to make the effort and the number interested in family history is already very small.

The question is, can this change? I believe that it can, but it will take a readjustment of a culture that is presently not in a position to see the need to adapt to technological change. The way to overcome this societal inertia is through the program presently under way in the Church: Find, Take and Teach. The key here is the last element of the process, that is, to have those who do overcome the societal inertia and do learn the process, to teach others. See Our Father's Plan is About Families.


  1. One of the most interesting things to consider is the change in technology regarding adding memories to FT. For example, I have about exhausted the ancestor photos, documents and stories I have collected since 1970 for my family, and put over 1,500 on FT. What I have left are audio tapes, cds, family movies by way of reel to reel, or vhs, dvds, - things that cannot be scanned. I have been teaching myself by means of Google searches how to, for example, rip a dvd family video to a digital format that I then could load to YouTube. So now it has a URL and guess what. The only place I can add it to FT is in the Create a Source template, and only for deceased people. But the latest tech items like dvds are about mostly living family members to which you can't add sources. So.... I have to upload it to a close dead relative to those living. Now that's dumb. I also have some super family blogs I'm following. There is no way to easily add those to people in FT. Using a URL somewhere would do it easily. Yes, I can scroll across, copy and paste sections into the stories memories, but that is time consuming. It seems to me that eventually we all, and especially the up-coming generation, are going to be facing this problem of how to deal with the modern way we create and share memories. I think FamilySearch is just a little behind on this in their programming of FT, teaching the conversion process, and helping consultants be effective with new technologies. Yes, we have 2 mobile apps - one for FT and one for Memories. But they do not teach nor handle the conversion from old technology to new. We are on the verge of this crisis.

    1. This is a general problem of format migration. FamilySearch is really at the forefront of the solution, but the whole world is facing the problem.

  2. Family Trees and their satellite programs are not new technologies, just different ways to describe/program what the technology is supposed to do.

    1. I guess that depends on how old you are. :-)