The past and future battle for relevance — and your soul?

June 24th, 2015 7:13 pm

First Posted: 7/24/2013

FOR EVERY FLASHY, forward-thinking fan of the future you'll meet at least one equally passionate, retro-loyal pusher of the past.
Then there are those of us in between. Satisfied but restless. Content but not quite. Torn between two equally lovable ways of life.
So dumbwaiters are back. Have you heard? Yes, it's true, my sources say. Those nifty little transportational devices found within a number of grand homes of yore are trendy once more.
Reimagine, if you will, a world in which you can send things from upstairs to down in a hurry or, even better, from outside to in, provided your dumbwaiter shaft makes a pitstop in your garage.
This happy little news, brought to us by those trendspotting types, comes even at a time when the grand march toward everything “smart” in a home shows no signs of slowing.
You can watch the baby sleep (or howl) from any room in the house, or even remotely from your office.
Lights and televisions and recording devices can turn on and off by themselves.
Rooms can sense your presence and adjust their temperatures according to your preference.
Appliances can kick on at your sayso, and dinner can commence to cook via your remote command.
Who'd have ever thought?
Meanwhile, circle back several decades and pine for what we're still missing, or what we used to have but, for whatever reason, phased out or simply did not care to sustain into any number of new eras of daringly different.
Those teeny-tiny elevators capable of taking the groceries from car to kitchen more than qualify for our reflection. Yes, dumbwaiters hail from a time when homes had all kinds of quaint and graceful things. (Though why they aren't called smartwaiters escapes me.) But so many wonderful things have now been reduced to mere relics.
Do you also recall laundry chutes, with a similar founding principle except the process isn't quite as elegant?
Front and back staircases, redundant perhaps but lovely (and inarguably handy)? Secret passageways, even if more entertaining than necessary? Coal bins, so useful even when coal retired as king?
Transom windows? Iron entry gates? Glorious front porches, with milk boxes to receive deliveries fresh from the barn, in glass jars?
How about a built-in newspaper receptacle, made of metal or brass? I recently came across one of those and was probably unreasonably delighted.
And let's not forget chandeliers. How many homeowners cleaned those monstrous 5000-piece, look-at-me light fixtures by hand, piece by painstaking piece? Those are making their way back into the mainstream, too, at least if anecdotal evidence holds. Step into the lighting aisles of even the big boxes these days, and tell me I'm wrong.
Yet this is where I get confused, dumbfounded even, by a clear collision of two distinct worlds. Don't know whether to push forward, trying to keep up with the “smart” Joneses, or cling desperately to what's left of the old-good stuff before more of it ups and walks out of our lives.
Now I'm no Luddite. I love me a good DVR, iPhone, iPod, iPad, you name it. If I never rewind another videotape, double-expose another roll of film or un-scratch another CD, I'll be fine. Yet I'll rue the day I have to live in an all-black, all-micro-tech home that's abandoned its soul.
So here I fence-sit, watching and waiting. Perhaps for a sign, to tell me where to go and what to do in this crazy, mixed-up world of split personalities.
About that fence … Did I mention it's white and has these pretty little things called pickets?