15 March 2009

A changing genealogical ecosystem?

Warning: This item contains opinion.

On returning from another interesting BIFHSGO meeting on Saturday I sat down to go through my RSS feeds. The item that attracted my attention was the text of a talk by Steven Berlin Johnson.

Johnson writes engagingly on the intersection of science, technology and personal experience. He first came to my attention as author of The Ghost Map, named for the influential map of deaths in London's 1854 cholera epidemic.

Research on victims of the epidemic was the topic of last month's BIFHSGO talk.

Johnson's talk was Old Growth Media And The Future Of News a timely one given the rate at which newspapers are collapsing and other media contracting, also the topic of a segment on Steve Pakin's TVO program on Friday evening.

One section toward the talk's end caught my eye "There should have been a ten-year evolutionary process: the ecosystem steadily diversifying and establishing its complex relationships, the new business models evolving, the papers slowly transferring from print to digital, along with the advertisers."

It reminded me of a line used in government ... we only ever make progress by accident. When an accident came along the government contained the public reaction by funding the improvements we all knew years before were needed, everyone except the keepers of the purse strings at Treasury Board. Expect to see it happen again following the recent helicopter crash off Newfoundland.

Similarly, ecosystems evolve through disaster. It's wishful thinking to expect them to anticipate a trend. Pine beetles infest and kill off vast areas of forest. Fire ravages forest acreages. The forest doesn't grow back as it did before if the trees were stressed and especially vulnerable to the attack owing to, say, climate change.

Such abrupt disruption is the norm. The news-media are wrestling with it in nature's way, described by Tennyson as "bloody in tooth and claw."

How about genealogical media? Will the response to technological change be continuing to sleepwalk to disaster?

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