What Has Done More to Improve Living Standards: Indoor Toilets, Air-conditioning, or Smart Phones?

This is a good example of debunking what can be called “Chrononcentrism”, the idea that we’re living in special times (can be be – like Dickens wrote – the best of times or the worst of times.

There is a good documentary series and book by Steven Johnson “How we got to now”, that give a lot of examples of breakthrough innovations that changed the world.

Last summer I saw a poster of this sign in my hotelroom near the Grand Canyon. Imagine how much the world has changed because of this – e.g. the Harvey Girls spreading civilization across the land.

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Larry Cuban on School Reform and Classroom Practice

Living in the heart of Silicon Valley–where bullet-proof coffee, gluten-free muffins, and traffic gridlock prevail–I am surrounded daily by unrelenting optimism about the promise of technology making our lives better. I would guess, then, that fellow Valley-ites, if given the above choices, would pick “smart phones.” *

Were they to do so, they would be wrong. According to economic historian Robert Gordon, between 1870-1970 standards of living rose far more dramatically than the half-century since 1970. As he puts it:

The century of revolution in the United States after the Civil War was economic, not political, freeing households from an unremitting daily grind of painful manual labor, household drudgery, darkness, isolation, and early death. Only one hundred years later, daily life had changed beyond recognition. Manual outdoor jobs were replaced by work in air-conditioned environments, housework was increasingly performed by electric appliances, darkness was replaced by light, and…

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