While I agree that the metal typesetting of well printed books made for agreeable reading and it was the best that could be done with the technology of that time, I don't think it should be today's standard. Prior to printing types, texts were hand written and kerned by eye as the were written. The more skilled the writer, the better it looked. When metal type came along, this could not be done and I am sure there must have been some grumbling about it. This did not stop the process of improvement of type nor should it have. When photo typesetting came along, there were tracking sets and kerning. This was pushed beyond the good during the bashing and crashing 80s and it was heralded by many as great stuff. Still, there was grumbling [me among them]. Again, progress did not stop, thankfully. Today, we can space and kern in any way we wish, both as type designers and as type users. With this freedom, some good work comes out but so does some shit--just like always. Fashions of type style and spacing comes and goes but we never stop evolving both what we design and what we accept as good work. My guess is that the human mind and perception is very good at adapting to these changes and it always will be. The tools are now there and are ever improving. Peoples abilities to use well or poorly will always endure as well. It is neither the current tools or fashionable preferences which are the problem as long as the skill of the user is up to the task. The "Good old days" had their shit work, too. It just does not survive well or get retained for long. At some point in the future, our work will be, in some cases put on a pedestal, and in others cast to the trash heap.
Go ahead, kern away or not, just do it well. The trouble is do it well for whom? Your current generation or those that might come later?