The basic activities involved in genealogy and family history research are inherently conservative pursuits that change very slowly if at all. However, the marriage between genealogy and technology has swept some important aspects of genealogy into warp speed. Those who do not make any progress in keeping up with technology are rapidly being left behind. It is important to understand both how and why this is happening.
The most obvious technological change involves the evolution of computers. You may hear that today's smartphone has more computer power than was available to all of NASA back in 1969. Yes, your smartphone is a more powerful computer than all the computers used to send men to the moon. This huge increase in computer power comes from adding more and more computational ability while at the same time making the circuits (components called transistors) on the silicon chips that make all this possible at a smaller and smaller scale. There is a general rule that addresses the increase in density of the transistors on a microchip. I have quoted this statement before but it bears repeating. I found this quote again in a PC World article entitled, "Gordon Moore is still amazed at how Moore's Law shaped the tech industry" from May 12, 2015.
Moore’s Law set an expectation that Intel has fulfilled—and then some. As Krzanich himself explained it: Since Intel’s first microprocessor, the 4004, was manufactured in 1971, Intel’s chips have increased 3,500 times in performance, and 60,000 times in clock speed. They also have improved more than 90,000 times in terms of energy efficiency. If a 1971 Volkswagen Beetle had advanced at the same pace, Krzanich compared, it would be able to drive at speeds up to 300,000 miles per hour, get 2 million miles per gallon, and cost about 4 cents.How does this affect genealogists? Here are some of the more obvious ways.
The most dramatic beneficiary of all this computer power at such unbelievably small cost is the internet. I can physically be almost anywhere in the world and by using my iPhone, I can talk with and see any one of my children or grandchildren. In fact, I could be driving in a car at 75 mph on a freeway and my wife sitting beside me could be having a casual conversation with one of our daughters, thousands of miles away. As a genealogist, I can sit with my laptop computer on my patio (assuming good weather) and do research in any of hundreds of libraries around the world or view vast collections of billions of records.
A small part of all the activities facilitated by the computer revolution coupled with the internet includes making available billions of original and valuable genealogical source records are being digitized every week and made available online to anyone who has an interest in doing the research and can pay for access.
OK, so computers have a huge impact on our lives and even on our genealogical research, but what if I don't happen to want to keep on traveling down that technological superhighway? Well, let's look at some of the effects these constant changes have on our everyday genealogical lives. Here are a few of the devices that are now quickly passing into obsolescence. You might want to remember typewriters, dial telephones, Betamax, and other such devices also.
CDs and DVDs
If you have a stack of old VHS tapes sitting around somewhere you are probably aware that buying a VHS player/recorder is not as simple as walking into the nearest store and paying for the device. VHS tape players are still available online and you can buy one that will play through your computer or TV if you have the adapter to connect the VHS to either device. But the same thing is happening with CDs and DVDs. None of the newer computers being sold today have internal CD or DVD drives. You can still purchase an external drive that will work, but it now an add-on and will quite soon have gone the way of VHS and older video tape systems.
As I have written recently, microfilm is on its way out. Before you realize what is happening, microfilm will be just a memory.
Software in a box
You might not have noticed, but there is almost no software available today in a box from a computer store. There are still a lot of games and you can still order some of the genealogy programs in a box on a CD or DVD, but the sale of software has moved entirely to downloadable programs on the internet.
Why do I keep harping on this topic? The answer is very simple. I am still dealing almost daily with genealogists who don't seem to understand that these changes are not just an interesting thing to amuse children and other young people, but that the technology is changing the way we go about doing genealogical research. Ask yourself a simple question. If you did not have a connection to the internet and access to one of the large online genealogy database programs, where would you go to access a complete copy of the United States Census?