One Friday evening, while my daughter was home from college over the holidays, she casually asked if I would like to check out the first episode of Downton Abbey with her.
For the dozen or so people who haven’t heard, the much-buzzed-about British drama is set in the early 1900s, beginning in 1912 just after the sinking of Titanic and continuing throughout World War 1 and beyond. The “family home” is a magnificent mansion, the costumes are gorgeous, and the romantic entanglements are complicated and swoon-worthy.
Now I’m not one to jump on a bandwagon just because something is über-trendy, so in my mind I replied, “Of course not, do you really think I’m shallow enough to buy into the hype about what is essentially a glorified soap opera?” But in real life, I shrugged and said, “Sure, why not?” I’m only human, after all. So we settled in to watch, and by the time we came up for air, the entire first season—and a good chunk of the weekend—had passed.
I can see why the series has taken the U.S. by storm. This world of tremendous privilege, rarefied manners, convoluted inheritance laws and strict social order is captivating, and one can easily imagine whiling away the day, waiting for the “dressing gong” to signal that it’s time for a pre-dinner wardrobe change, facilitated by a faithful maid/valet.
It’s tempting to muse fondly about the magical, nostalgic qualities of days gone by, in a manner reminiscent of the protagonist in Woody Allen’s charming Midnight in Paris, in which a young man, convinced that he was born in the wrong era, longed to have come of age in 1920s Paris. But I must admit that I’m firmly convinced that I was, in fact, born in exactly the right time. I know this because it doesn’t take much soul-searching to realize that I am an unapologetic fan of so-called “modern conveniences.”
When I say modern conveniences, I’m not just talking about the Big Three (electricity, indoor plumbing, and Taco Bell). I’m referring to the sort of technology that actually enabled me to watch the first two seasons of Downton Abbey in a weekend (season one on Netflix, and season two purchased from iTunes). And don’t worry: the physical burden of all of that continuous TV watching was eased by using my iPad Mini; I could simply watch the episodes on the tablet device in my lap, thus avoiding the drudgery of having to actually look up at a TV screen.
These days, you can even forget about struggling to support the weight of those 1,000-page Game of Thrones books while lying on your back in bed. Today’s electronic book readers are not only lightweight and compact, they even make those authentic “swoosh” sounds when you initiate a virtual page-turn.
Technology has also transformed my driving experience. Just when I thought that heated seats were the ultimate in luxury, they were trumped by the frosty comfort of cooled seating, a godsend for women of a certain age. My vehicle’s voice-activated command center is eager to give me directions, describe the weather and traffic, and point me to the closest Starbucks, all while hundreds of specific-genre satellite radio stations offer commercial-free entertainment.
My cell phone offers me security in case of an emergency, gives me instant access to my children, and keeps me connected to important work emails. But more importantly, it allows me to video the bad drivers who turn left on red in front of me, take a picture of the “Deep Fried Bacon Wrapped Hot Dogs with Cheese” sign at the County Fair to post on Facebook, or Google the year that Animal House was released to settle a bet with my husband.
Am I spoiled? Absolutely. But all progress requires sacrifice. And besides, I can go old-school when necessary. In fact, I’m watching the current third season of Downton Abbey one episode at a time each week as it is broadcast, even though everyone knows that the only shows that are watched in “real time” these days are the Super Bowl and the Academy Awards red carpet arrivals.
The bottom line is this: if time-travel were indeed possible, I’m pretty sure I’d still choose to stay put right here. Sure, sometimes I miss having a catchy commercial jingle stuck in my head all day. And the only thing more intoxicating than the smell of the pages of a brand new bestseller is the ancient, evocative aroma of a musty old classic. But on the rare occasion when I long for simpler times, I can grab the very first record album I ever bought (Simon and Garfunkel’s Greatest Hits), carefully thread it onto my old turntable, drop the needle, and let the signature LP crackle instantly transport me back to 1972. I can live there in that perfect aural fantasy for a few minutes…but then the record inevitably skips, and I realize that while the past is a lovely place to visit—there’s no time like the present.