No matter how many spiffy and helpful “modern conveniences” we stuff into our lives, there is always some nostalgia for the simpler past. We feel that melancholy even with full knowledge that if we were to travel back to 1974 or to 1959 we would not be able to spend our leisure hours playing FarmVille on Facebook. Instead, we’d be watching three channels of television that went off the air after the 11 o’clock news. Then what? I forget. I think people went to bed. We weren’t a 24-hour society.
Television used to get blamed for the same sort of social ills that computers now do, so it probably doesn’t matter how late you go to bed. I remember a “Kill Your Television” campaign that blamed TV for the destruction of the family unit and for creating pasty-faced, socially inept teenagers who would likely grow up to be pasty-faced, socially inept and perhaps homicidal adults.
Lately, I’ve noticed a trend among my acquaintances to reconnect with those parts of the past that one most fondly remembers. This would not have been possible to achieve using a television. Today’s technology makes reconnecting easy enough to do. It’s also easy to connect with history in a way that was not possible before; assuming a firm grasp on the principles of literacy one can readily access correct information with a few keystrokes. We don’t need to leave the house to do that, but I’m all for taking advantage of non-virtual experience wherever possible.
I went to Dudley Farm Historic State Park with two thoughts in mind. One, the farm is a living-history working farm in a state whose proudest accomplishments are artificial. That it succeeds is probably because Gainesville has no Wild Waters. Two, I fear that history in the form of places like Dudley Farm will eventually be dismantled in favor of the simulacrum, probably with some gee-whiz technology that will visually dazzle but will ultimately be unsatisfying. For instance, a virtual reality Dudley Farm would involve your being able to insert your hands into some robot gloves that would allow you to take virtual eggs from a virtual hen’s nest or to operate a virtual water pump. Wow, that was fun. It’s coming, I tell you. We are one generation away from teaching history by sealing students into a virtual capsule bloodbath in Ancient Carthage. Lawyers are already working on the liability releases.
Dudley Farm is tucked back off State Road 26 between Gainesville and Newberry. Once you’ve parked your car, you need to take a trail back to the farm, which means walking on both pavement and on a leaf-strewn path. On this early spring day, the farm was bathed in sunlight. Set on 325 (of an original 640) acres, the farm was home to three generations of the Dudley family through as late as the mid-1940s. Cracker cows grazed in a large pasture and the strains of a fiddle drifted over the landscape.
My first impression was one of amazement. The Dudley family worked this farm until the decade before I was born, and I consider myself to be a member of a very modern generation, one brought up with TV dinners, Tang, and Pop Rocks. Yet on the farm, the Dudleys were living as they had the century before, even though the U. S. had just dropped the technologically advanced atomic bomb on Hiroshima. The contrast was striking to consider. Even then, the farm had that “world away” quality, the remove from the modern, that might be quaint but, seen as a working model, resonates with vibrancy.
A lot of care has gone into keeping the farm as it was. As a vehicle for understanding Florida pioneer culture, it is top-notch, as it is for investigations into sustainability. The big question is whether people would give up FarmVille for the farm and if they’d be able to survive if they did.
Dudley Farm Historic State Park: *****