Saturday, April 25, 2020

With a Face for Radio

Is it worth the effort and risk for a genealogical society, during this quarantine season, to hold their interim meetings over an online videoconferencing system?

Yesterday, one of our genealogical society's board members joined me in hosting an exploratory discussion over Zoom for precisely that subject: should other societies try out this new medium, since they can't hold meetings the way they always have in the past? We met with board members from a neighboring genealogical society, who were grappling with that question and wanted to glean from our recent experience.

As all capable board members would, this society's leaders had a long list of questions. Least among them was the "how to" or even the "how much" types of queries. The greatest concern was what their members might think about the change, and how they would handle making the transition. They wanted to hear about our experience with our own members.

Since holding our society's first online meeting—plus three other small group meetings—I've been recipient of several comments from members regarding this topic. Most have led to productive conversations, and all have helped our board more clearly see things from our membership's perspective. But some have stopped me in my tracks and made me want to shake someone and say, "Do you hear what you're saying?!"

One comment coming at me, the other day, was from a woman who didn't want to have her face show up on the camera. Fine, I thought, just listen to the audio feed. But then it got me thinking: this whole debate about whether to move our meetings to videoconferencing during this quarantine season is not just about being responsible to our dues-paying members and providing the education they've come to expect. It's really all about connecting. Again. After all this time. Because we couldn't, for the past six weeks.

So what if someone doesn't like seeing her face on camera because that hairdo needs a touch-up job, but the hairdresser had to close shop on account of the lockdown. We don't want to see a beautiful face; we want to see you, our friend whom we miss.

My husband—who, like me, also had a career in radio broadcasting in his post-starving-student years—likes to quip that some people have a "face for radio." In my case, I'm afraid that is fairly close to being true. Blame it on my mother's genes (although she certainly made a pretty picture), but I have inherited her intense dislike of being captured on camera. And yet, I'll do it if it means being able to connect with someone I haven't seen in too long a while, especially if there are no other options for getting in touch, face to face.

We worry too much whether our octogenarian society members will grasp enough of the current technological know-how to get themselves onto a computer and, even more complicated, click a link to use a videoconferencing program. Listen, they will do it the same way they get on Facebook, or use Skype or FaceTime, or even send that antiquated email: they will ask their grandchildren or nieces or nephews to get them fixed up so they just have to click a button. Or maybe, they just know how to do it all, themselves.

Last week—sometime in the middle of the week when, in former years, no one would have been out shopping for groceries—I took a look around as I tried to keep six feet away from all the people who were also shopping at Trader Joe's. Where did all these people come from? And why did they have such a desperate need for groceries right away, on a Tuesday? It occurred to me: no one was really there because they needed groceries. They were there because it was finally a beautiful spring day and they were desperate to get out of the house, but not just to take a solitary walk around the block. Grocery shopping on a Tuesday was the excuse to get somewhere where they could see other people.

We miss the people.

So when you are wondering whether it is worth it to try conducting your society meeting via videoconferencing services, don't think of the pros and cons of the technology. Think of the people. They are all desperate to see each other again. They will find a way to connect if you offer the means to connect them. Even if they have a face for radio.


  1. Yep, that was the reaction the first time I did Zoom with some of our members. "It's so nice to see you." "I've missed just seeing you these past four weeks."

    From a genealogy education standpoint (what our societies are supposed to be about), a $50 FamilyTreeWebinars subscription gives me presentations by professionals several times a week, and a library of 1400 classes any time I want.

    Will we ever go back to in-person meetings? I can talk to, and "see," friends from all over the world on Zoom, and not having to get dressed, go to the library, and sit beside people in a meeting.

    Being older, and with existing health conditions, why would I subject myself to being with thousands of people jammed in a stadium, or dozens in a conference room? Who knows what they have?

    I don't think I'm paranoid...

    1. I noticed you mentioned Zoom on your blog this past Wednesday, Randy. And you are so right: people miss seeing each other, after the past six weeks of relative isolation.

      Quality genealogical education is within reach, no matter where a person lives, thanks to the many options available to us online now, as you pointed out. What local societies need to keep in mind is how they can best provide the personal aspect, no matter whether we provide it face-to-face (if we ever get back to that privilege) or online.

  2. We have done Easter and a Birthday on zoom with our family. Not only do I have a mysterious dark stripe at my hairline, I really can't even brush my hair with a broken arm. My solution is a floppy hat. My husband thought this was so hilarious that he wore one himself on our second zoom. :)

    1. People are really getting creative with this online technology. I'd be curious to learn how each of the participants in your Easter and birthday online events reacted to the experience. I'm sure it's different for each participant.

      Of course, getting inventive is the key, right now. I think Zoom and other videoconferencing tools have a huge potential, with application variations we haven't even thought of yet. Kind of exciting, in my view.

      Speaking of inventive, sounds like the camera is trying to "re-invent" you, Miss Merry. But, despite your poor arm, you outsmarted it with your floppy hat! Love it!

    2. We have many grandchildren aged 3-11 that are used to face time with each other. The younger ones love chatting on line and will carry their device around their houses and show us their projects and toys. The kids enjoyed seeing each other and everyone talks at once (just like in person). My older grandchildren are really suffering from lack of other children their age. They all participate in several activities, scouts, sports, etc and being away from friends along with a new routine has left them a little moody.

    3. I should add that we have two moms who are elementary teachers so learning to teach with zoom and google classroom has been a real learning experience, especially with their own preschoolers at home, too. My oldest daughter is a college professor whose small university had zero on-line learning prior to the pandemic and that has been a big learning curve for students and facility.


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