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

Monday, March 20, 2017

How much technology is enough?

As I write this post, I am surrounded by technology. Very few things that I can see here on my desk would have been in existence when I was a teenager. Of course, pens, paper, eyeglasses, and a box of tissue would all be familiar to my teenage self, but the rest would have been pure speculative science fiction. This is especially true because I am sitting here talking to my computer and a program is transcribing my words onto my blog post.

What is even more interesting, that without the Internet and other worldwide developments in electronics, none of the items would've worked back then. So what do I have on my desk? What do I think is absolutely necessary to enable me to do genealogical research as I would like to do today? This turns out to be a serious question and one that is frequently raised by those I teach in classes.

Here is a list of the devices that I used on a daily basis.
  • Desktop computer
  • Laser printer
  • Smartphone
  • Laptop computer
  • Flatbed scanner
  • Sheetfed scanner
  • Various hard drives
  • IPad
  • Digital camera
  • External CD player
  • Bluetooth headset
  • Bluetooth speaker
  • Flash drives
  • A tangled mass of cables and accessories
Some things that are always present but not visible are the multitude of software programs and apps that I use every day. These represent a substantial cost.

I can assure you that every one of these items has been used and some have been upgraded and replaced many, many times. This what I have enough? The answer that question would be a tentative yes. It is tentative because some of the items are quite old and may need to be replaced or upgraded as new technology develops. Now let's suppose that you have never purchased any of these devices. First of all, that would put you in a small minority of the overall population of our country. But, for the purposes of illustration, I will start with a hypothetical situation where a person has no technology. What would they buy first?

For genealogists today, access to the Internet is indispensable. The first purchase should be a device that connects to the Internet. From my perspective, I need a keyboard. So, whatever device is selected, it must have a usable, full-size keyboard. Over the past few years, I have been debating whether it would be more economical to have a laptop computer that connects to a large monitor and an external keyboard, instead of purchasing both a laptop and a desktop computer. This is a decision that would have to be made by the individual. I talked to many people who find using their laptop connected to a large monitor and keyboard when at home to be sufficient. In my case, laptop computers still lack enough internal memory storage and connectivity to be a primary computer.

The next most important item is a printer. What about the difference between a laser printer and an inkjet printer. Although I am trying to eliminate printing altogether, I still find laser printers that use toner cartridges, are more economical than inkjet printers. Inkjet printers are practically free but the cost of the ink quickly makes up for the low initial purchase price.

Immediately upon addressing the issue of purchasing electronic equipment for genealogical purposes, the cost of the equipment becomes an issue. As I pointed out many times in the past, we will buy that we are interested in buying. I do find, however, that some people use the cost of the equipment as an excuse for not doing genealogy which is pretty silly from my perspective.

For genealogists, if they are using either a laptop or a desktop computer, they should be backing up all their data regularly to an external hard drive, a flash drive, or to online storage, or all three. Fortunately, the cost of buying external storage has dropped precipitously in the last few years and promises to drop even further in the near future. There is really no excuse for losing data because you failed to make a backup.

What would be next? For my own convenience and to increase my ability to do work while traveling away from home, I choose to have a laptop computer in addition to my desktop computer. For that reason, a laptop would be my next purchase.

Because I have been dealing with a lot of paper that includes records, documents, and other items that relate to my research or were inherited from my predecessors, I have always had a scanner. My first purchase would be a flatbed scanner. But because of the volume of the documents that I have a process, I've also chosen to purchase a sheetfed scanner. Both of these scanners are used frequently.

At this point, I should also point out that my wife and I run and manage a couple of businesses in addition to our genealogical pursuits. Some of the equipment is justified by reason of the fact that we work at a professional level. For example, I cannot imagine living without a camera. Over the years I purchased perhaps dozens of cameras. I actually have two main digital cameras that I use constantly. However, from a genealogical standpoint, I could use my smartphone, in my case, an Apple iPhone. Actually, I use all three. I would suggest that the utility of having a digital camera available to take notes, preserve documents, take pictures in cemeteries, and a multitude of other uses justifies the cost of having at least one of these devices.

Because we read a lot of books and like the portability and convenience of tablets, we have several iPads. One issue that is beginning to appear is the fact that tablet computers may replace laptops. As I have found out over the last two or three years, the issue now is software development. Tablet computers, unless they are actually laptops in disguise, do not yet have the complete software capability of the desktop or laptop computer.

My external CD player is necessary because none of my new computers have an internal CD drive and there is still a lot of media on CDs.

The Bluetooth headset, the Bluetooth speaker are both for convenience. I now use a Bluetooth headset and voice recognition software to write when I am pressed for time. The Bluetooth speaker is good for presenting a class when there is limited access to amplification systems.

Presently, flash drives do not have the capacity to act as primary backups. But they do provide the ability to transport larger files. In using computers and remote locations, I have moved from carrying a flash drive around to using online storage. I do use flash drives as a backup for my presentations, just in case Internet connectivity is not available.

How much does all this cost? A lot. But all of this electronic equipment is used for personal and business purposes that overlap into our genealogical pursuits. One thing I can say about the cost of this equipment is that it is a lot less expensive than it used to be just a few years ago.

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