Thursday, 10 March 2011
The Census is coming...
In a few weeks time, the census for 2011 will be dropping through your letter box. Frankly, it doesn't seem like five minutes since we did the last one but I guess that's just a sign of old age.
I have mixed feelings about the census. As I have an interest in family history, I have to say that the censuses from 1811 through 1911 have been very useful in my researches and have enabled me to trace ancestors that I otherwise would never have found.
There's also something fascinating about those old Victorian censuses filled in with their quaint old script. The 1911 was the first one filled in by the householder, so for the first time I was able to see my grandfather's handwriting. But I digress...
This is the age of the computer, and if you really want to screw things up, then get a computer! With a computer it is possible to collect and collate vast amounts of information - most of it meaningless and useless - which it would otherwise have been impossible to gather. This census will be 32 pages long and will take about 40 minutes to fill in. This is ludicrous. It is information for the sake of it. Imagine trying to do all that by hand with a quill pen. Impossible.
But that is the point. In olden times - before computers - we placed value on information and only collected what we really needed. Time is money and census collecting took lots of man hours.
There seems to be a growing backlash this time around about the quantity and intrusive nature of the information being collected. For example, do we really need information on racial origin when we have laws that say racial discrimination is illegal? Is it really any business of the state what our sexual persuasion is? Why do you want to know my religion?
It is tempting to fill in these returns with the contempt that some of these questions deserve. On the other hand, in a hundred years time, do I really want my great grandchildren to think I was a complete idiot because of some of my answers.
Perhaps that's the way to do it. Think of it as a message for your descendants and answer it accordingly...