The Good Old Days Weren't Always Good...

A collection (with apologies to Billy Joel) of the ways and reason why the supposedly "good old days weren't always good and tomorrow ain't as bad as it seems."  Yes, people have been complaining about how bad life is (and kids are) since there were kids and life.  And no, things are probably not worse today, and yes, the world our kids will inherit will probably be OK:

Fearing technology is as old as old is

This article is primarily about self driving cars, but provides several good general lessons. Examples: 

- "Much historical technological hysteria has proven to be overstated"- "Even the wheel might have evoked concerns about people straying too far, with the complexity of travel overwhelming their minds."
- "With every subsequent technological advance, from electricity, to the telephone, to radio, to the loudspeaker, to the internet and email and Tinder, people have warned that these tools will compromise our mental well-being, our intelligence, our safety, our ability to communicate, and our moral compasses."
- "Decades of research on how people evaluate risk shows that emotion, rather than logical calculation, drives judgments."

All of this just from the first few paragraphs!

Does this graph look like a nation that is worse off?

Crime, GMOs, preservatives, dyes, terrorism, poisoned water, chemtrails. If you read around enough, you'll find 100 reasons to fear that the world is coming to an end, or at least that we in the U.S. are MUCH worse off than we were.

But take a look at that graph. That is the life expectancy in the U.S. And its on a pretty much unrelenting upswing.

Sure, life expectancy isn't everything. After all, who wants to live to 100 but be a sick, immobile vegetable for the last 20 or 30 of those years?

But with that caveat, if we were really poisoning ourselves with packaged foods and GMOs, wouldn't that number have come down? Or at the very least plateaued? One would think, wouldn't one?

And yet there you have it. At the time most of us with little ones were born, life expectancy was 72ish years (I'm using 1970-1980 as the benchmark, the far left of the graph). Today, it stands at 78 years. Our kids can expect to live 6 years longer than we did. Assuming that continues, and why not assume that with 40 years of historical data suggesting it will, our grandkids can expect to live to a ripe old age of 85 or so.

Not too shabby.

We really WANT our kids to have it easy

I was reading something the other day - and I can't remember where or find it now - but I thought about it as I was shoveling snow today and watching a bunch of people using snow blowers. The article went something like this: Of course kids these days have it easy. THAT is exactly what we want. If we are doing our jobs as adults, then life should be easier. We should be inventing tech and processes and methods that make whatever we did as kids easier for today's kids. Kids way back in the day had to shuffle outside to go to the bathroom and travel miles to the nearest clean well and slug water back home in a bucket. We don't want our kids to have to do those things.

This is pretty much the progress of humanity. Kids today have it easier than their parents, just like their parents had it easier and etc. etc. etc. It isn't a knock on kids, its the way it has always been.

And frankly, if our kids' lives are harder than our own childhoods, something has gone terribly, terribly wrong.

Today really is better than yesteryear

We've all heard it: bread back in the day costs a nickel. One nickel! That and the "walking up hill both ways" thing might be the world's first memes. Anyway, as with so many memes, it takes an acutely narrow picture at the expense of a broader understanding.

Sure, bread cost a nickel. But that fact is relatively useless as anything more than an "oh really" type of thing. You see, in 1950, service industry jobs paid $1/hr, and more fancy jobs like those in insurance and real estate would pay a whopping $1.50/hr. So while bread was cheaper, you weren't making jack.

In fact, here is a cost of living tool that will tell you what $X in a certain year would buy in 2015. For instance, $50,000 in 1950 is equal to almost half a million dollars today. So sure, bread was a nickel, but its not like at that price bread was a throw-away product and no one was starving - because it was still expensive. And today, you can buy bread AND computers. Win - Today.

Well, at least our grandparents could leave their houses unlocked without fear of having their super expensive bread stolen from their breadbaskets, correct? Again, no.

Homicide today is the lowest is has been since the 1950s. At most, you are about as equally likely to be killed if you leave your house unlocked today as your parents were way back when they were kids. You know, before "society these days" and the "world we live in" developed.

Ugh, the kids these days 

Mentalfloss has put together a great list of 15 panics from the past. What caused some of these panics? Here is a quick list as well as a short description of the "problem" was.

Dances With Danger: Now considered a classic dance, the Waltz was originally reviled as too far removed from the "reserve" usually shown by English women. Don't worry, by 1904 society moved on - and presumably survived the horrors of the Waltz - to turn its focus to the temptations youths faced and how lazy they had become. And because no good lesson goes unlearned, by 1926 people were complaining about the low moral standards and lax habits demonstrated by films.

Society In Decline: The youth, they are out of control, I tell you. At least, that is what Robert Russell wrote  in 1695, complaining that the youth he passed in his journeys had - gasp - nicknames, and would sometimes curse. Imagine the horrors. You can probably relate, since those wicked kids later turned into "effeminate and self-admiring" kids. I tell you, kids just aren't the picture of vigor and athleticism of their fathers. No, their fathers stoically fought wars and bread lines with stiff upper lips. Which war, and which kids, we are talking about is the question, since the comments in question come from a letter published in 1771 - five years before the American Revolution.

Mindless Matters: Its a familiar complaint: kids are wasting their time on smut and empty social media. Just worthless material that provides no mental nourishment. You could write this today, on Facebook even, and probably get liked, shared and upvoted out the wazoo. But as you can probably guess by this point, the complaint is not new. In fact, it comes just a couple of handfuls of years later - 1790 - after our last example. In this case, moral worry warts were wrapped up in concern about the "poisoning" effects of ... books and plays. Books. People were complaining about reading books. When you complain about all the kids with their heads in their phones, this is who you are in retrospect.

Gamers: We all know how games corrupt youth, what with all that sitting around indoors playing mindless games and imitating violence. We all know its bad for them. Have you seen these modern, newfangled games kids play? As you can probably guess, I'm not talking about the latest Grand Theft Auto game. But I'm guessing you didn't think I was talking about the game chess. Chess can't be bad. Its pretty universally seen as a worthy pursuit, right? It wasn't always that way. In an 1859 issue of Scientific American, the complaint is that the game of chess is virulently spreading across the country, creating children of inferior character who could be spending their time on better intellectual pursuits.

This is just a great sampling. The complaining about "youth these days" goes on and on at the source. Keep this in mind next time you want to complain about "kids these days" with their dancing and time wasting.

You have access to $900,000 in tech in the palm of your hand

Pretty awesome.  Video conferencing and GPS tech make up three quarters of it. But before dismiss that, consider that video conferencing allows Moms and Dads to see their babies in NICUs and to be face-to-face at bedtime when they are away on trips. That is to say nothing of the benefits provided by the medical library at your fingertips or the video game console your kids can play while waiting at the doctors, grocery store, or eatery. And don't forget it allows you make calls, providing essential lifesaving access in times of emergency that were unimaginable just a few decades ago.

Harrowing Halloween

What kind of world do we live in where kids can't even trick-or-treat without having parents go through their bags for razors and drugs? A pretty safe world where that almost literally never happens, it turns out. Despite multiple-year-running worries and billions if not trillions of trick-or-treaters, there appear to be no reports of drug poisonings or needles/razors in candy. 

Despite the scare stories you'll read on Facebook and hear on the news - and even get from allegedly reliable sources like the police - your kid can safely consume the treats they get during Halloween without you worrying. 

What they, or maybe parents, probably shouldn't consume is too much media. 

You are a LOT less likely to be poor

You might not realize this if you consume traditional media or trust in memes and ongoing myths, but the world is a much, much richer place today than at any time in history. How much more rich? The worldwide extreme-poverty rate fell under 10 percent for the first time recently (as of Oct. 5, 2015). So less than 1-in-10 people across the world are living in extreme poverty. As an absolute number the statistic is still staggering: 702 million people live in extreme poverty. But as the World Bank president says, we are the first generation in human history with a chance to eliminate extreme poverty.

You are a LOT less likely to die young...

As this article points out, the rate of death for kids under 5 has been cut in half since just 1990, when 7,608,500 kids under 5 died.  1990!  The number now stands at 3,665,700.  Why? Well, vaccines mostly (GET YOUR KIDS VACCINATED!), but also better nutrition thanks to how commercial food has allowed  widespread distribution of food.  Older than 5?  As the story notes, lower death rates are seen across all age groups. 

Cheer up and smile...

Longer life spans, less disease, less pain, and more amenities.  You can keep your "cool" facade of thinking things are worse, but keep all these things in mind, because they all make for a better world.

The good old days... didn't always exist

In the last 150 years, we have doubled the average life span of an American.  That means that if you are reading this, there is a good chance that 150 years ago you would already be dead.  Average life spans used to top out at 40 or 50.  We are hitting 80 now.

Oh, and you would have likely died from one of the more horrible ways to die in human history. Ways we have largely eradicated. And if you were luckily enough to survive to 40 or beyond... well, infancy was the most common age of death until the 20th Century, so you likely to experience the death of at least one of your children.

And it wouldn't just be you who was dead; if you are 60, and had kids in your 30s, not only would one likely already be dead, their siblings would all likely be on death's doorstep as  well.

Nice.

Its been bad since, well, 1986, at any rate...

Turns out, Oprah (in a kind of pre-"Oprah" Oprah mode) and Tipper Gore revealed the true turning point in society in 1986.  It was the Beastie Boys.

Yes, even in 1986 it was impossible to raise Christian children in our X-rated society.  It's sad that so many of those now 30 yearish old kids have all turned to Satanism due to our society and are wildly accepting of whatever denigration is put in front of them.  So much so that children these days have no boundries or rules and essentially run wild in the street in their rag clothes, clutching knives to their chests - but only when they can't afford guns.

Comparing today to only the best of yesteryear

Simon Doonan at Slate.com pisses and moans on and on about how as a society we are all fetished up with the Kardashians.  It isn't like in his day - or that of his parents or grandparents - when accomplishment and talent was truly respected, he says.

I've blogged so much about this type of thing, I doubt I even have to make most of arguments again.  Doonan ignores two hugely important facts:

A) every society and culture and time period has had its "cupcakes."  Way back when it was gladitorial fighting, then it was coming out parties and Queens and Kings and Barons and courts and then it became movie stars and comic books and on and on.  Most if not all of those "cupcakes" are forgotten about 30 years on, so of course today's offerings appear worse.  When you compare Bieber or Spears to only the best of what survived from decades ago, of course today is going to pale in comparison.  But was Elvis really so much more accomplished?  One of the few really insightful comments is from a reader of Victorian novels who notes that even in those works - written in the 1800s - people complain about the disrespectful youth and downfall of culture and society.

B) As more and more people learn to read and have access to television, of course the interests of those people are going to dominate the media more.  This isn't a dumbing down of America or the world or a refutation of science, its just that people who 100 years ago would have gossiped in pubs can now read, and so they read People or US or watch the Kardashians or Real Housewives.  To this extent, TV now more closely represents what the U.S. always was.  When rich, educated people have 90 percent of all the televisions you would expect the fare to be tailored to them.  It stands to reason that when they represent only 10 percent of the viewership, the programming is going to be less tailored to them.

And some of the commenters are the best.  They run about 80 agreeing, 5 percent contradicting Doonan, and 15 percent saying "don't lump me in with 'those people'"  This last group posts things like: "Kim who?" "Sports schmortz, we don't watch them."  "When people ask what us about the game we say 'is there someone playing something'" - as if not knowing about pop culture somehow makes one smarter or superior.  But its not as if one can't know both who S. Hawking or R. Dawkins are while at the same time knowing of K. Kardashian or Fletcher Cox (Eagles draft pick).  I know of all four.  I also know that - contrary to many of the commentors - there is plenty of good television programs.  And lots of it doesn't appear on PBS.  Channels like Science, Discovery and the like produce shows like "How Its Made" and shows featuring science giants like Hawking and Machu.

Some other comments I like: 80 of people are idiots (excepting, I'm guessing, the commentor and his friends, who probably don't follow such mundane things as sports and television stars)

As one of the commentors noted, there is an entire South Park episode dedicated to S. Hawking - how much more pop culture, Red Carpet, can you get?


Being poor ain't what it used to be...

Is that possible? According to this chart that I borrowed at the every fascinating Bleeding Heart Libertarians, it is:

consumption data
That just jumped out at me as an odd stat.

The point of the post was that if you look at how the poor have fared since 1984, things aren't really so bad. Almost none of the poor had computers, cell phones, microwaves or clothes dryers and less than half had air conditioning. Not all of those are life changing. But computers almost certainly are. Computers - hand in hand with the internet - open a vast world of education and knowledge to the poor that they would have almost certainly been locked out of in the past.

Microwaves, clothes dryers, and cell phones, while not life changing in the same way, certainly are time savers, allowing the poor to work longer hours, or to have more leisure time while working the same hours. Air conditioning, although largely taken for granted, is a life-saving invention. And I'm not being dramatic. It literally saves lives.

The author of the post also notes that while many "experts" lament how wages have been largely stagnant over the last 20 or 30 years, that isn't the whole picture. As computers and cell phones and microwaves have become cheaper we now live better lives, even if we make the same money, than we did 30 years ago. Not only that, but thanks to microwaves, VCRs, the internet and things like dryers, we have more free time, and more entertainment options available to us.

So it's not really fair to simply lament that wages have largely remained the same over the last 30 or so years, because in the big picture, our lives are vastly easier than they were 30 years ago, and we have access to a much wider array of entertainment and educational options.

Its been bad since, well, forever ...

Fred Astair lived from May 10, 1899 to June 22, 1987. For the purposes of this post I'd like that 1987 to be a bit earlier (no offense Mr. Astair), but it will do.

At some point during his life, he said the following:
"The hardest job kids face today is learning good manners without seeing any."
It's important to realize that he died in 1987. So at the very latest, he must have been talking about "kids" in 1986 or 1987. Given this, the "kids" he was talking about would now be between 20 and 40 years old (roughly ages 0-20 in 1986). Again, this is assuming the latest possible date he could have made this comment.

Why is this important? Well, next time any one between those ages tries to tell you about the lack of "manners" kids have these days compared to their day, keep in mind that Fred Astair thought the same thing about them way back when they were kids. And any time some one over those ages tries to tell you how parents don't set good examples for their kids... well... guess who was "not setting" a good example for all those kids Astair is talking about.

Just another example of how things really aren't worse today than they were back then. The good old days weren't always good, and (today or tomorrow) ain't as bad as they seem.