Downtrends in an Up World

By most objective measures, the world is a better place to live today than it was in, say, the 1950s. We have color television and a zillion more channels. The Internet provides access to more information than was ever available in an encyclopedia (and it’s updated). Refrigerators don’t need to be manually defrosted. Cars are more fuel-efficient, and our phones are more powerful computing devices than the vacuum tube-driven processors that were used to send the first people into space. Think about that the next time you play Angry Birds.

But a recent list first published in the Chicago Tribune offers one person’s inventory of things that have NOT improved in the past 60 years. It includes the cost (way up) and quality (way down) of higher education, the lower cleaning ability of dishwasher soap, and the fact that we don’t get full service–including washed windows and a check of the tire pressure–at the gas station anymore. Air travel used to feel like a special experience. Now, at best the experience is more like what you get at the bus terminal; at worst, it can feel like herding cattle–and you’re not the cowboy but one of the cows. Professional athletes are paid a lot more and, perhaps in a total coincidence, tickets to sporting events are dramatically higher than they used to be.

You can see the full list here, and decide for yourself whether canned corn does or doesn’t taste as good as it used to, or whether the ever-shorter racing careers of the top Thoroughbred race horses makes for lower fan loyalty and interest. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the whole exercise is that the author (who was actually compiling a list made by his father) could only come up with 26 things that are not as good as they used to be. I’ll bet you’d have no trouble thinking of twice that many things that have improved dramatically since the 1950s.

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