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The Myth of Technological Progress
Taki's Magazine ^ | August 30, 2009 | Scott Locklin

Posted on 08/12/2010 3:05:50 PM PDT by B-Chan

Many of you will still be alive in 50 years. It’s interesting to think about what life will be like in 50 years technologically and otherwise. Predictions are risky, especially when they’re about the future, but I believe we can make some pretty good guesses. To predict a predictable future, you need to look at the past. What was technological life like 50 years ago? 50 years ago was 1959. The world of 1959 is pretty much the same world we live in today technologically speaking. This is a vaguely horrifying fact which is little appreciated. In 1959, we had computers, international telephony, advanced programming languages like Lisp, which remains the most advanced programming language, routine commercial jet flight, atomic power, internal combustion engines about the same as modern ones, supersonic fighter planes, television and the transistor.

I’d go so far as to say that the main technological innovation since 1959 has been space flight—a technology we’ve mostly abandoned, and it’s daughter technology—microelectronics. Computer networks came a year or two after 1959 and didn’t change very much, other than how we waste time in the office, and whom advertisers pay.

Other than that, man’s power over nature remains much the same. Most of the “advances” we have had since then are refinements and democratization of technologies. Nowadays, even the little people have access to computers and jet flight, and 1800s-style technology like telegraphy can be used to download pornography into their homes. Certainly more people are involved in “technological” jobs, and certainly computers have increased our abilities to process information, but ultimately very little has changed.

Now, if we’re sitting in unfashionable 1959 and doing this same comparison, things are a good deal different.

The rate of change between 1959 and 1909 is nothing short of spectacular. In that 50 years, humanity invented jet aircraft, supersonic flight, fuel-injected internal-combustion engines, the atomic bomb, the hydrogen bomb, space flight, gas warfare, nuclear power, the tank, antibiotics, the polio vaccine, radio; and these are just a few items off the top of my head. You might try to assert that this was a particularly good era for technological progress, but the era between 1859 and 1909 was a similar explosion in creativity and progress, as was the 50 years before that, at the dawn of the Industrial revolution. You can read all about it in Charles Murray’s Human Accomplishment: The Pursuit of Excellence in the Arts and Sciences, 800 B.C. to 1950, though I warn you, if you’re in a creative or technical profession Murray’s widely ignored book is even more depressing than this essay. Murray didn’t restrict his attentions to technological progress: across the entire panoply of human endeavor (art, science, literature, philosophy, Mathematics) the indications are grim. You may disagree with the statistical technique he used (I don’t), but you can’t escape the conclusion—things are slowing down.

Certainly, people can be forgiven for thinking we live in a time of great progress, since semiconductor lithography has improved over the years, giving us faster and more portable computers. But can we really do anything with computers now that we couldn’t have done 30 or even 50 years ago? I don’t think life is much different because of ubiquitous computers. Possibly more efficient and convenient, but not radically different, much like things got after the invention of computers in the ‘40s. Now we just waste time in the office in different ways.

Remember the kind of “artificial intelligence” which was supposed to give us artificial brains we could talk to by now? The only parts of which work look suspiciously like signal processing ideas from, well, the 1950s. The rest of it appears to have degenerated into a sort of secular religion for nerds.

Looking forward, I can’t think of a single technology in the works today which will revolutionize life in the 21st century...


TOPICS: Culture/Society; Miscellaneous; News/Current Events; Philosophy
KEYWORDS: future; past; technology; utopia
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Food for thought. Complete Text
1 posted on 08/12/2010 3:05:54 PM PDT by B-Chan
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To: B-Chan

Given the lack of investment in technological advancement, particularly in the West, the rank stupdity in our polity and our public life (primarily through the propogandistic dumbing-down of our interactions and exchanges via the media) and our seeming inability to even engage in important infrastructure improvements and advancements (thank you to the zero-growth mania of the greens)...I would say that it is not at all out of place to think that we are now entering a new Dark Ages.


2 posted on 08/12/2010 3:13:05 PM PDT by Scott from the Left Coast
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To: B-Chan
I don’t think life is much different because of ubiquitous computers.

Obviously he's never hear of FR or online dating or...

3 posted on 08/12/2010 3:13:25 PM PDT by Errant
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To: B-Chan

They promised us jet packs and flying cars. Hmmmmpphh.


4 posted on 08/12/2010 3:13:28 PM PDT by San Jacinto
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To: San Jacinto

This is exactly the old patent office official’s quote in 1865 that EVERYTHING HAS BEEN INVENTED...


5 posted on 08/12/2010 3:20:58 PM PDT by Huebolt (It ain't over till there is not ONE DEMOCRAT HOLDING OFFICE ANYWHERE. Not even a dog catcher!)
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To: Scott from the Left Coast
I would say medical advances are pretty breath taking if you think about it. What were the chances of survival for very premature babies in the 50s? Heck I remember people smoking in hospitals. You really want a 1950s artificial limb? or a new modern one that senses micro muscle movements giving lifelike movements to the limb?
6 posted on 08/12/2010 3:25:16 PM PDT by enraged
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To: Errant

The biggest change I see since 1959 to today is that kids that do graduate from High School...............can’t read or write. What progress we have made. Most could’t design or even assemble a computer today, let alone use the keyboard.


7 posted on 08/12/2010 3:25:39 PM PDT by RC2 (Remember who we are. "I am America")
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To: San Jacinto

I wonder what MiMi the Mechanix Illustrated girl looks like now


8 posted on 08/12/2010 3:29:45 PM PDT by John Galt's cousin (Principled Conservatism in 2010 and 2012 * * * * * * * * * * Repeal the 17th Amendment!)
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To: B-Chan

I think medical advancements are pretty good since 1959


9 posted on 08/12/2010 3:31:46 PM PDT by GeronL (http://libertyfic.proboards.com <--- My Fiction/ Science Fiction Board)
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To: RC2
A few days ago, my grandson showed me a better way to quickly change the screen font size on IE7. He starts kindergarten next week...
10 posted on 08/12/2010 3:32:13 PM PDT by Errant
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To: B-Chan
Periods of invention are usually followed by periods of innovation. We experienced a great deal of invention in the first half of the Twentieth Century. The second half expanded upon those inventions with innovation. For example, computers were around in 1959 but the last 50 or 60 years have improved on the technology greatly.

To discount innovation with respect to invention is short sighted at best.

11 posted on 08/12/2010 3:33:11 PM PDT by CharacterCounts (November 4, 2008 - the day America drank the Kool-Aid)
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To: B-Chan

bump for later.


12 posted on 08/12/2010 3:33:39 PM PDT by Cacique (quos Deus vult perdere, prius dementat ( Islamia Delenda Est ))
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To: B-Chan

Is this guy drunk? The computer alone has gone through a dozen major technological jumps since 1959. Calculators today have more computing power than put a man on the moon. Heck the really kick butt calculators probably have more computing power than existed in 1959.

Beyond computers tons of other stuff has changed. International telephony actually works for everybody not just a few, and can be done from the palm of your hand in your back yard not physically connected to anything. Speaking of more computing power than existed in 1959, how about them smartphones. He’s just plane wrong about commercial jet flights being routine in 1959, commercial flight wasn’t routine for anybody and commercial jets were rarer still. Then there’s the revolution in cars, better fuel, better comfort, and now they can tell you where you are and how to get where you want to go. And as for televisions forget about it, the change from 13” black and white over the air to 52” HD satellite and cable and possibly even 3D ready is so dramatic they probably need a new name.

Then there’s the stuff he didn’t even bother to mention. How about lenses. Anybody whose been wearing glasses for the past 10 or 15 years knows some amazing changes have happened there. Every pair I get is lighter and more durable than the ones they replace even though the prescription is stronger. And how about the revolution in the storage and transfer of music. Heck just in the performance of music, one of the reason so many old farts keep touring is they love playing with the new technology.


13 posted on 08/12/2010 3:33:48 PM PDT by discostu (like a dog being shown a card trick)
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To: B-Chan
In 1943 Thomas Watson, the chairman of IBM, is reputed to have predicted, "I think there is a world market for maybe five computers." Boy, he sure blew that one, and he was the world's expert on the topic.

So much for predicting the future. When you get right down to it, let's face it.....it's impossible.

14 posted on 08/12/2010 3:37:46 PM PDT by CanaGuy (Go Harper!)
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To: B-Chan

I guess the central question, the central thesis, is that the degree of change in the last fifty years, as large as it seems to us in our lifetime, is - according to the author - a matter of whole lot of “refinement” based on earlier “groundbreaking” discoveries; whereas the previous fifty years was a period of a whole lot of brand new breakthroughs.

They may be right, but what about “medical science”. To me that area seems the reverse of Mr. Murray’s thesis; with the period of 1900 to 1950s being “refinements” of earlier discoveries but the 1950s to 2000 seeing some major breakthroughs. Am I wrong?


15 posted on 08/12/2010 3:41:20 PM PDT by Wuli
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To: B-Chan
We've made a lot of technological progress in the last 50 years. But we haven't put a dent in quality of life- at least not in the United States. I would argue that quality of life is worst today, than in 1960. Quality of life has much more to it than just new and improved products. It has to do with the overall aspects of life and can be subjective to a large degree.

US Cities were much more livable in 1960 than they are today. This is true coast to coast. There was a lot less crime and less vulgarity in our daily lives. This is a topic I could write on all day, but time is short today. Suffice it to say, I don't like America as much today as I did in 1960, even though I was a very small child at the time. The United States was a much better country in 1960.

If there were such a thing as a time machine and I could get into it and go back to 1960, I'd do it in a second. In fact I turn the dial back to 1950.
16 posted on 08/12/2010 3:45:29 PM PDT by truthguy (Good intentions are not enough.)
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To: B-Chan
In 1959, we had computers

Right. And the computing/storage capability of today's laptops would have weighed about 10 million pounds and have been the size of a the pentagon. Cost? Probably about the same as obamacare.

I'll take the unimpressive tech of today and he can stick with the '59 version.

17 posted on 08/12/2010 3:45:48 PM PDT by Right Wing Assault (The Obama magic is <strike>fading</strike>gone.)
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To: discostu

About a year ago, my 12 year old daughter and I were watching an episode of the Brady Bunch. I asked her what year she thought the episode was filmed in. She said 2000.


18 posted on 08/12/2010 3:46:41 PM PDT by rbg81 (When you see Obama, shout: "DO YOUR JOB!!")
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To: B-Chan
Predictions are risky, especially when they’re about the future . . .

Yogi Berra couldn't have said it better.

19 posted on 08/12/2010 3:49:07 PM PDT by Misterioso (The truth is not for all men, but only for those who seek it. -- Ayn Rand)
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To: rbg81

There’s not a lot of stuff in a Brady Episode to pin the time frame. Sometimes you might see the trunk of their car in an outdoors scene, that would pin it to the 1970s. I don’t remember ever seeing a TV in it. If you got a good look at the kitchen and noticed the lack of microwave that might put it pre-1980. The hideous 70s clothes is really about it, and there was a 70s “style” rebirth in the early 2000s. So that’s not a bad guess on her part, especially considering that at age 12 she probably doesn’t have much knowledge of the differences in the world between Brady era and now.


20 posted on 08/12/2010 3:50:39 PM PDT by discostu (like a dog being shown a card trick)
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To: discostu

I agree with your assessment. His computer examples are the same as saying there is no advance involved in a fire hardened stick vs a machine gun bullet, both being weapons. The article is remarkably stupid.


21 posted on 08/12/2010 3:57:31 PM PDT by Anti-Bubba182
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To: B-Chan
Many of you will still be alive in 50 years.

I'll be 115.

22 posted on 08/12/2010 3:58:39 PM PDT by Graybeard58 (Nobody reads tag lines.)
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To: Anti-Bubba182

I actually followed the link, he’s got a hilarious couple of paragraphs about how the SR-71 is faster than the F-22 therefore planes haven’t advanced. He completely ignores how the SR-71 as a spy plane was designed specifically to be too fast to shoot down and has no weapons taking up space and weight, and the F-22 being a fighter plane is designed to... well shoot stuff down and so has weapons and other things that would slow it down.

And he even dismisses medical advances, carefully ignoring MRIs and a bunch of other stuff.

Maybe it’s supposed to be a comedy piece.


23 posted on 08/12/2010 4:01:04 PM PDT by discostu (like a dog being shown a card trick)
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To: B-Chan
Looking forward, I can’t think of a single technology in the works today which will revolutionize life in the 21st century...

Silly. Genetic engineering could have enormous consequences. It's not a gadget you can hold in your hand or ride downtown, but it's going to be a big change for some people.

Similarly, if we get transportation that doesn't depend on petroleum, it won't be as dramatic as seeing that first car or airplane coming at you, but it would mean a major change in the way the world works.

And if the "people" of 2100 aren't really human beings, but some new synthesis of man and machine, that would also be a major change.

BTW, John Lukacs used to play this game, but he'd go back even further. If you saw the coming of the railroad, the telephone, the automobile, and the airplane, he'd say, you saw the world change more than anyone who came along afterward would.

That's true. The shift from an agricultural to an industrial world was greater than anything we've seen since.

It doesn't mean that technological progress has stopped, though.

24 posted on 08/12/2010 4:02:15 PM PDT by x
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To: B-Chan

Nanotech and memsistors are two biggies that might make a huge leap. The LHC could also find some stuff for anti-gravity by 50 years as well. Hard to say at this point.

It kinda depends on what you want as well. Probably no moon bases thanks to hussein. Possibly a space elevator if nanotech works out though.


25 posted on 08/12/2010 4:03:01 PM PDT by Tolsti2
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To: Graybeard58
Same here, & will prolly be driving a gasoline powered car getting 35 MPG.

Secret, it's big oil that has determined MPG for the past 50 years as well.

It's a factor of fractions, so much kerosene/jetfuel/fuel oil v. the lighter stuff , gasoline , etc..

It all has to go somewhere, you can't compress a liquid, so the math has to be worked out in advance.

26 posted on 08/12/2010 4:03:38 PM PDT by norraad ("What light!">Blues Brothers)
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To: B-Chan
Is he nuts? Look what size the cell phones were back then:


27 posted on 08/12/2010 4:06:58 PM PDT by Brett66 (Where government advances, and it advances relentlessly , freedom is imperiled -Janice Rogers Brown)
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To: discostu

More likely it is a cranky old man than a comic.


28 posted on 08/12/2010 4:09:15 PM PDT by Anti-Bubba182
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To: B-Chan
Universal compulsory "education."

Add that to "affirmative action," and the prohibition against legitimate criticism of a large part of our population, and you get lowered standards for nearly every human endeavor.

I heard many people complain about affirmative acction because they thought it was unfair. I always knew that a more insidious side effect would be a gradual erosion of meritocracy as the dominant ethos of our culture.

29 posted on 08/12/2010 4:11:24 PM PDT by Trailerpark Badass (I'd rather take my chances with someone misusing freedom than someone misusing power.)
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To: Graybeard58
I'll be 115.

I'll be 81. Wanna hook up?

30 posted on 08/12/2010 4:15:58 PM PDT by 668 - Neighbor of the Beast
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To: discostu
Agreed. A few things more to consider that only the cynical would ignore or be blinded.

Cardiac Stents
Human Genome
LCD displays
LED Bulbs
Pharmaceuticals
Gore Tex
Joint Replacements
Horizontal drilling


Technological development is discovery.
31 posted on 08/12/2010 4:16:03 PM PDT by PA Engineer (Liberate America from the occupation media. There are Wars and Rumors of War.)
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To: B-Chan

Technology is all, or almost all, about making more out of less, as the planet becomes increasingly overpopulated.


32 posted on 08/12/2010 4:19:58 PM PDT by Age of Reason
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To: Right Wing Assault

I’d go crazy without my Tivo, lol.. I don’t know how I made it without DVR’s until 1999.


33 posted on 08/12/2010 4:20:53 PM PDT by Tolsti2
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To: truthguy
In the early 50s in the city, my dad had to shovel coal into the coal furnace. The ice man came every other day. Mom and I had to walk to the store (no car) to buy meat fresh every day since the icebox couldn't keep it fresh very long. Couldn't keep ice cream. If my dad needed a piece of lumber, we took two different streetcars (no car, as I said) to the lumber yard and brought it back on the streetcars. In the winter time the streetcars were heated by little coal stoves. The scrap collector (paper, rags! Our guy never said "paper eggs") drove a wagon pulled by a horse. Same with the produce guy ("apples, oranges, peaches, plums, and nectarines --- and fresh - straw - berries!" he would yell). There were no interstate highways. The bums were actually gentlemen, though, and my mom would give them handouts. And no, we never locked our doors. We didn't have any keys for the house.

When we sold the house in 1961, crime in the neighborhood was rampant, so we had to get keys made. Our next door neighbors, who were a very nice young black couple, had their house cleaned out by burglars while they slept. Two houses down a guy was sent to prison for murder. I was scared to death to leave the house. In 1961 I didn't see the quality of life you mention.

I will take my quality of life today over that of the '50s any day.

34 posted on 08/12/2010 4:21:44 PM PDT by Right Wing Assault (The Obama magic is <strike>fading</strike>gone.)
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To: discostu

If he’s serious, then he can’t be argued with. He’ll say scramjets or space planes aren’t really knew since we’ve had paper gliders for 500 years or something.

All that stuff he listed being so great in from 09 to 59 was built on earlier stuff. Electricity led to the big leap for most of it. If he thinks history has many leaps as big as electricity and knowing the physical laws of the atom then, he’s going to be disappointed.


35 posted on 08/12/2010 4:25:23 PM PDT by Tolsti2
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To: John Galt's cousin

Mimi. I couldn't wait for each issue to show up!

36 posted on 08/12/2010 4:26:50 PM PDT by Right Wing Assault (The Obama magic is <strike>fading</strike>gone.)
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To: B-Chan

Drivel to get some words on paper and get paid.

My I Phone has more power and network ability than anything that was even conceived in 1959 and it is obsolete


37 posted on 08/12/2010 4:27:09 PM PDT by bert (K.E. N.P. N.C. +12 ..... Greetings Jacques. The revolution is coming)
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To: B-Chan
I remember 1960 vividly, and seriously disagree that things have not changed.

Medical science has changed tremendously. My father nearly died in 1961 of a coronary, and the treatment then was to keep him in a hospital bed for 6 weeks! He was only in his mid-40s. He was told to avoid any exertion afterward.

Science has moved on tremendously. In 1960, Venus was still thought to be cool enough to be habitable, and the only images of Mars were taken through the fog of the Earth's atmosphere.

Communication has changed. Long distance calls inside the country were an event in 1960. In the 1990s, one of my coworkers dialed direct her parents in India after an earthquake to check on them.

And there was NO clumping cat litter in 1960!!!
38 posted on 08/12/2010 4:27:37 PM PDT by Nepeta
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To: CanaGuy
In 1943 Thomas Watson, the chairman of IBM, is reputed to have predicted, "I think there is a world market for maybe five computers." Boy, he sure blew that one, and he was the world's expert on the topic.

Actually, he was right, given the nature of computers at the time. Computers are ubiquitous now because they are relatively cheap and small. At the time this guy was talking, computers filled a room and cost a fortune. Would you have a computer in your house if it filled a room and cost $1 million? Or at your small business? If someone had asked him, "Hey, what if we made the computer 10,000 times more powerful, as small as a briefcase, and only at the cost of the average person's weekly salary, how much demand would there be?" he'd probably have answered "Everyone would have one then."
39 posted on 08/12/2010 4:30:14 PM PDT by fr_freak
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To: PA Engineer

Did he mention GPS, satellite weather pictures, minimally invasive surgery. The latter turned things like gall bladder surgery from a major event to a one day deal.


40 posted on 08/12/2010 4:31:02 PM PDT by Right Wing Assault (The Obama magic is <strike>fading</strike>gone.)
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To: Right Wing Assault
You are one person out of many. Anecdotal cases don't mean a thing. For the vast majority of us, it's a mix bag. Some things are better, some not so good. The overall crime rate was much less! Yes there were pockets of crime even in 1960 but there are many more today.

I was in diapers at the time but I think things were better in 1960 for a vast majority of Americans. At least we were a nation in 1960 and not the mess we are today.
41 posted on 08/12/2010 4:31:06 PM PDT by truthguy (Good intentions are not enough.)
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To: B-Chan

Disagree. The practical application and miniaturization of computers has changed the world, especially with the power of distributed knowledge sharing. It’s a different world because of it.


42 posted on 08/12/2010 4:31:16 PM PDT by Personal Responsibility (In a time of universal deceit - telling the truth is a revolutionary act - Orwell)
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To: truthguy

Didn’t crime really take the dramatic jump in the early 70’s? And hasn’t it generally been on a decline since the mid 90’s?

We traded communism threat for islamic, so that’s a wash imo sadly.


43 posted on 08/12/2010 4:33:46 PM PDT by Tolsti2
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To: truthguy
US Cities were much more livable in 1960 than they are today.

Sure. But a lot of people will tell you that things are better now than they were in 1970 or 1980, and that is something.

Suffice it to say, I don't like America as much today as I did in 1960, even though I was a very small child at the time. The United States was a much better country in 1960.

In those days, you could buy up the farmland outside any big city, build homes on them, and the people who bought them were happy, especially in comparison to what they went through in the Depression and WWII.

Now all that land has been built on and we have at least 130 million more people.

More people chasing things that may not have increased as much + higher expectations and less confidence in achieving them = more unhappiness.

44 posted on 08/12/2010 4:37:46 PM PDT by x
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To: Right Wing Assault

I think that computing power has become so commonplace that it is simply taken for granted.

Don’t you?

I mean, in 1959 I sincerely doubt anyone would have considered it even possible to be driving down the road in a computer controlled vehicle, using a computer based GPS system to give you directions all the while looking up where you want to eat that evening on your handheld smartphone computer.

Heck, science fiction of that time had not even imagined such wonders.

I completely disagree with the premise of this piece.

Cheers,

knewshound


45 posted on 08/12/2010 4:38:32 PM PDT by knews_hound (Credo Quia Absurdium--take nothing seriously unless it is absurd. E. Clampus Vitus)
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To: B-Chan

I told my daughter, who is an adult, that when I was her age you had to get up out of the chair to change the channel on the television. She said she would hate to live in a world like that.


46 posted on 08/12/2010 4:47:12 PM PDT by Lucas McCain
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To: truthguy

You might like 1960 all the way up until summer when you find out there’s no AC. Or until January when you find out there’s no power shovels. Hope you land somewhere that has all the fruits and vegetable you like grown within a couple of hundred miles, food didn’t travel far back then, which of course also means “out of season out of luck” because there are no imports. Goes for animal products too, if you like sea food you better live near the sea. You also better not like to travel because the interstate highways were only just starting, trains kind of suck, and planes were very expensive. Hopefully you won’t have a lot of stuff either, the average home back then was half the size of now. Car ownership was less than 1 per household too, and those cars had no AC and only a radio for entertainment.

1960 really wasn’t that awesome.


47 posted on 08/12/2010 4:54:49 PM PDT by discostu (like a dog being shown a card trick)
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To: Age of Reason
as the planet becomes increasingly overpopulated.

If you crammed the entire population of the world into a land area the size of Texas, how much room would each person have?

Do the math. We're nowhere near overpopulated.

/johnny

48 posted on 08/12/2010 4:57:59 PM PDT by JRandomFreeper (Gone Galt)
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To: discostu

Folks were snappy dressers, though. You’re right about the AC. Summer in the South with no AC was brutal. That’s why people lived in Buffalo.


49 posted on 08/12/2010 5:21:22 PM PDT by AceMineral (Clam down!)
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To: 668 - Neighbor of the Beast

“I’ll be 115.”

“I’ll be 81. Wanna hook up?” - 668 - Neighbor of the Beast

I’ll be a 104. It’s a date!


50 posted on 08/12/2010 5:21:50 PM PDT by Forgiven_Sinner (If you meet people with no brain, no heart and no courage, you are not in KS-You are in the Congress)
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