Technology is Tradition: thoughts from the Consumer Electronics Show

Whirlpool Fresh Connect

Whirlpool 2020’s “Fresh Connect” concept. I’m writing this post from the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, which I am attending this week as a correspondent with Whirlpool.

I’ve never exactly considered myself a “techie” type. In fact, for years I would have referred to myself as a downright Luddite. I’m big on tradition, ritual, familiarity – the things that connect people and communities. Having the latest gadgets has never really seemed important to me, and I tend toward the unrealistically romantic when it comes to vintage household items.

But not too long ago, I realized my mental picture of myself has been a little bit skewed. So maybe I don’t care much about downloading every new time-saving app, but I still love my iPhone.  I get a lot of use out of my Internet connection, and have benefited from all the various tools and advances that have made them better (shuddering when I think back to my circa-1997 AOL dial-up!)

And while I love to imagine a connection between myself and women of 150 years ago, that doesn’t mean I want to pound my dirty clothes on a rock to get them clean or try to cook meals over a smoking coal stove.

I think it can be tempting to try to draw a distinction between technology and tradition. But innovation has always been part of human life.

For women in the 1800s who were accustomed to cooking over an open fire, primitive coal ovens must have seemed like an unbelievable development. And the gas kitchen range has been around in close to its current form for going on 100 years.

Today’s sleek modern gadget will soon enough become tomorrow’s vintage novelty. And the Kitchen of Tomorrow will, soon enough, be what children grow up remembering their grandma’s kitchen looking like.

In other words, technology is tradition.

That’s the kind of thing I’ve been mulling over this week at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. Wandering the show’s many halls and peeking into exhibit booths yesterday, I witnessed an enormous collection of apps, gadgets, accessories, and devices that have been invented to make life easier, more efficient, or just more fun.


the Hapifork, just one of the many perplexing devices showcased at CES

It’s clear that many of these inventions will not stand the test of time, and several of the gadgets I looked at seem unnecessary at best. But taken as a whole, the amount of curiosity, imagination and brainpower represented at CES is pretty stunning. Who knows which of these new innovations will become staples of human life in years to come?

It almost feels like witnessing the creation of tradition.

As I mentioned above, I’m here at CES on behalf of Whirlpool. As a 101-year-old brand, Whirlpool has strong ties to the past – and in my little city, where the company was created and remains one of the area’s largest employers, people are fiercely loyal to the Whirlpool tradition!

But the company is also looking forward.  The theme of the brand’s booth is “Whirlpool 2020”, and it represents Whirlpool’s vision for the evolution of household technology over the coming years. Some of the products in the booth are things you can buy right now, or soon, while others are concept products that illustrate what a Whirlpool kitchen might look like in 2020.

Will all of these concepts come to fruition? Perhaps, perhaps not. But with a little imagination, I can picture my grown children – and one day, grandchildren – and I one day gathering around a “hearth” that looks like this:

Whirlpool 2020 "Fireplace" Concept

Whirlpool 2020 “Fireplace” Concept

Maybe it doesn’t resemble any fireplace I’ve ever seen, but it still offers a place to gather, connect, and tell stories – and that’s what matters, and will continue to matter, today, tomorrow, and far off in an unknown future.

I’ll be writing more about the things I’m seeing at CES at The Kitchen Hour this week, so be sure to check it out!

If you’ve been hoping for a revival of WHITE appliances like me, you’ll definitely want to take a look at my first post about Whirlpool’s new White Ice collection (there’s also a link you can click for a chance to win a new kitchen suite.)

Next week I’ll be back here with some final thoughts on CES, household technology, family life and tradition. And maybe a little bit about what else I’m doing in Las Vegas!

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