My office window on the second floor looks out over a 200-year old log cabin. It was built in 1795 or 1796 by Ichabod Miller, one of the earliest settlers in the area. It's a classic Currier & Ives sort of place, a one-room log building with a huge stone chimney on the side, small square windows in the walls with heavy one-piece shutters, and wooden shingles for roofing. A board-and-batten lean-to extends to the rear. Kudos to the Anderson Township Historical Society for preserving this structure and its nearby barn and outbuildings as a historical site. Once a month it is open to the public.
Our company has been located next door since 1982. So for over thirteen years, I've seen this log cabin almost every day, yet I never bothered--until recently--to visit the cabin, although I was always curious about what was inside. Last month, the family and I stopped by on a Sunday afternoon for a tour.
The white-washed ceiling in the main room barely clears the top of the front door. The hand-hewn plank floor is rough and uneven. A rocking chair sits by the oversized fireplace, so deep and cave-like. In the corner, a ladder and a trap door lead to the attic, apparently where early occupants slept under the rafters.
But like a lot of museums, this display can be unintentionally deceptive. It selectively preserves that which is compatible with a romanticized perception of the past. Its picturesqueness conceals the cramped, ill-lit, pest-infested lifestyle that inevitably went with being a pioneer. In short, this old cabin is a marvelously ambiguous place. It is at once quaint and charming but also crude and comfortless. It simultaneously glorifies life with--and without--modern technology. Those good old days were awful, weren't they?
In truth, the past was a mixed bag, a paradoxical combination of drastic tradeoffs. But so is the present, and so shall the future be. What's worth remembering is that technology itself is morally neutral. If today's existence is the better or the worse for all of our inventions and discoveries, the responsibility lies with us, not in our gadgets. It's all in how we have used or abused them. Two hundred years ago, the gadgets were fewer, that's for sure.