Commenter Lord T notes on another thread that
We have made no advances in 20 years, unless you count making things smaller. Mobile phones, computers, our wages...
Now, being the naïve lefty metrolib arts grad that I am, I assumed that this statement was absurd. Of course the human race has made advances in the last twenty years or so, I thought to myself. After all, I considered, I keep having to replace my phone because each new model does something whizz-bang, and I have to keep up with the Joneses. But challenged by Mr Quango to do a blogpost proving Lord T wrong, I am wondering whether I am perhaps hopelessly naïve indeed.
Let's take the mobile phone point. Twenty years ago you could get this:
It's called a Motorola Flare. It does everything a mobile phone needs to do: it can make phone calls from pretty well anywhere that Mercury One2One provides a signal. The latest iPhones (other phones are available) can take photos, record and edit videos, interact with friends and strangers in 192 countries, and let you check your bank balance, but really that is not so much an advance as putting several different devices into one box. Not clever. In fact, modern phones have useless batteries, so the Flare is probably better overall. The Flare worked on exactly the same GSM networks which we still use today, and in 1995 One2One's coverage was comprehensive (as long as you didn't want to venture outside the M25). Carrying around hyper-connected supercomputers in our pockets is just absurd consumerism; we were good enough at mental arithmetic to divide up the restaurant bill in our heads.
If you did need a camera in 1995, you could buy one of these, which I am sure you will agree is perfectly adequate:
This camera has memory storage for 36 photos, who needs any more than that? I bet you could even have bought a selfie-stick if you needed one. In 1995 there wasn't a button to upload your photos to Facebook, but can we really call Facebook an advance?? In 1995 we used to actually visit our friends and family, to interact with them in real life, rather than send them photos of what we are eating for supper. To get there we might have used the UK's top selling motor of the era.
Cars are another field in which absolutely no advances have been made at all. This little beauty has four wheels, a petrol engine (no doubt running on unleaded), and the 1.4L model could get up to 105 mph. It could do 34 miles to the gallon. I learned to drive in something very similar, and I could not fault the handling. The current entry-level Focus has a 1.0 litre engine (which is obviously much worse than the 1.4 which the Escort had in 1995) and the fuel economy is only about 50% more with only a tiny increase in power. Modern cars have seatbelts, as cars did twenty years ago. There have been no developments to speak of in car-safety, and our roads are more accident-prone year-on-year. So again, in the car field, no advances at all.
If instead you decided to stay in, TVs were just as good twenty years ago as they are today.
If you were a high-roller you would probably have Sony's latest Trinitron 32" screen. Maybe you wouldn't even have needed to be a 1%er: they only cost about £2500. In 1995, everyone had Sky or cable, so you would have been able to choose from nearly 30 channels, or you could rent a video from Blockbuster. TV highlights debuting in 1995 were Dangerfield, Hollyoaks, and The Thin Blue Line. No TV of any note has emerged since 1995, as we all know. Indeed even the most leftymulticultysoftleftpinko has to admit that cultural output in Britain and the wider world has pretty much collapsed in the last twenty years. Nobody has produced any music, film, or literature of note in the last twenty years, so we are forced to keep re-reading High Fidelity while listening to the Spice Girls. HD is just for wendyball. Hilary Mantel, Zadie Smith, pah.
Architecture and building engineering has been treading water; the art world has never recovered from Damien Hirst pickling a shark.
OK, OK so all of this is fluffy consumer crap that nobody needs. What about the important stuff?
According to the UN, extreme poverty has declined significantly over the last two decades. In 1990, nearly half of the population in the developing world lived on less than $1.25 a day; that proportion dropped to 14 per cent in 2015. Globally, the number of people living in extreme poverty has declined by more than half, falling from 1.9 billion in 1990 to 836 million in 2015. Most progress has occurred since 2000. The number of people in the working middle class—living on more than $4 a day—has almost tripled between 1991 and 2015. This group now makes up half the workforce in the developing regions, up from just 18 per cent in 1991. The proportion of undernourished people in the developing regions has fallen by almost half since 1990, from 23.3 per cent in 1990–1992 to 12.9 per cent in 2014–2016.
So that's that pretty much answered: we're all poorer and hungrier than we were twenty years ago. I would try and find some UK income or GDP numbers, but we all know they are made up, so what's the point?
In the good old days, we were promised glamorous Jetsons-style living, flying cars, nuclear aeroplanes, and holidays on Mars. None of that has happened. In the last twenty years, we have made no progress at all in space exploration. We have absolutely not sent exploratory robots to Mars, comets, or taken high-resolution photos of Pluto. Definitely not. On the topic of aeroplanes, no new commercial aeroplane models have been introduced since the 777 in 1994. Jet engine economy has not soared, long-haul travel has not become ever cheaper and more accessible. The UK aviation industry has basically closed down, and everyone holidays in Skegness because we are all in such poverty. Olé.
No new drugs have been developed. UK life expectancy has not risen by five years in the last twenty. Everyone pretty much dies of cancer or AIDS when they hit 40. And you aren't even allowed to smoke in pubs.
So I think Lord T has it pretty much spot on, and I have to admit defeat. Luckily, nobody will ever know, because blogs haven't been invented, and you don't have an internet connection at home.