Sunday, July 16, 2023

When Good Enough Isn't


There's a phrase that has been bandied about lately, "Good enough is good enough." For those plagued by perfectionism, perhaps that saying provides a therapeutic salve, a reminder that going the extra mile is not always necessary. On the other hand, ever one to spot such things, my husband remarked on the redundancy of such a saying. After all, if good enough were good enough, then it would be sufficient to merely say, "Good enough is."

Somehow, though, there are times when good enough isn't. This past week, I couldn't help but ponder the state of genealogy and how far it has come in the last few decades. I've been there, back when the paper trail was literally that: paper. It could take a long time to find that brick-wall-busting document, the key to unlocking the family secret—or at least its plebeian origins. Research speed and accuracy have escalated to breathtaking levels with digitized records and computerized search capabilities. I am alternately in awe of how far we've come, and oblivious of all that went into providing the technological advances that power our current research prowess.

There comes a time, however, when those whose ingenuity powered such progress may be tempted to settle on their lees. We've been amazed and jazzed for so long, concerning all that we can accomplish with these services, that perhaps that good enough has become good enough. If companies could digitize the 1940 census, then they could do so—and faster—for the 1950 census. If they could do it for the United States enumeration, then they could do it for Canada, too.

Technological progress, after its first stellar applications, seems to settle into a routine of theme and variations—once done well, rinse and repeat. The more, the merrier. But generating such volume, when it comes to more of the same thing, becomes merely good enough. When does better come in, once the routine shifts to simply increasing the volume? We begin to see a collection of also-rans, as other organizations learn the ropes and follow the leader. The new "good enough" begins to lose its luster as the playing field becomes more crowded.

There was a time when none of the research benefits we enjoy now were even conceivable. When "better" came, it came with leaps and bounds. The danger with such monumental improvements comes later, when we settle for more of the same—forgetting that before those last advances, we couldn't even have dreamed of what we have now. We slip into satisfaction with good enough—until good enough isn't good enough any more.

As amazed as I might have been with the immense progress made in search capabilities for genealogical details, I'm hoping there are some geniuses on the horizon who will not be lulled into satisfaction with good enough, forward thinkers who will foresee genealogical applications for future developments. As much as we may be happy with what we can do now that couldn't have been done forty years ago, we always need to keep our expectations high. Good enough will not always be good enough.

But why settle for good enough, anyhow? If that were how researchers saw things, we would never have gained the progress we enjoy now.

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