Until his death in 2000, Dennis Severs lived in London’s east-end in a house that had no running water, no electricity, no toilet, no shower, no toaster, no TV, no modern conveniences of any kind.
Mr. Severs had done his best to take up residence in the 18th century, and he and his butler managed a pretty good job of it.
You could tour Mr. Severs’ house and as a limited version of time travel, it was a lot of fun. I got a closer to the 18th century, even if I never felt I was moving away very much from the present day.
Historical recreations like the one by Mr. Severs, Colonial Williamsburg and Upper Canada Village give us a vivid sense of difference. When I was at Upper Canada Village, one of the visitors asked one of the staff, "So what’s it like to live without a car?" The answer, "What’s a car?" gave everyone a nice little shock.
The question is this: how and how long would we have to live in a historical recreation to begin to to lose touch with the present day in a useful way. Human beings are wonderfully adaptive. We begin to recalibrate immediately. A couple of hours and we are sliding out of many assumptions and arrangements. A couple of days, and we are well down the slippery slope and this close to Stockholm syndrome.
The reason this is useful for marketers is the shock of reentry. So much of good marketing is "getting our head out of the bucket" and "thinking outside the box" and otherwise relieving ourselves of the assumptions that prevent us from seeing what is "right before our eyes."
As Andy Grove puts it in his very interesting Only the Paranoid Survive:
“All business operate by some set of unstated rules and sometimes these rules change—often in very significant ways. Yet there is no flashing sign that heralds these rule changes. […] The trouble was, not only didn’t we realize that the rules had changed—what was worse, we didn’t know what rules we no had to abide by.”
Time travel really helps here. Spend a couple of days in the 18th century and we would be gifted with sight. Indeed, a couple of days in the 18th century would be worth its weight in ethnographies, focus groups and brain storms. Things would just become ever so clear. Grove’s "unstated rules" wouldn’t be unstated anymore.
Hurray for someone. There must be many people who would like to live in the 18th century or the 7th one for the matter. I mean, who wants to live in the real world? Most of us do it out of necessity and under protest. Or we could take turns staffing the past, on our vacations possibly. Every so often someone from the present day would come wondering in, clearly unclear on the rules in place. Patiently, we would ask her "what’s a car?" and ever so gradually the visitor would begin to watch her unstated rules explode like overheated party balloons.