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.
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:
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