The Little Things


There are several popular business/self-improvement books out there now (Factfulness and Enlightenment Now) that make the case that the world is objectively a much better place than it has ever been. The authors don’t base their positions on flaccid, positive-thinking mumbo jumbo. If they did, I wouldn’t believe them. I’m not the type who can step in poo and exclaim, “Great! Fertilizer!”

Just not me.

I’m much more of a realist. Yes, there are some bad, awful things going on right now that make me weep for the future. For starters, the polar ice caps are melting and, of course, the band Nickelback still, inexplicably, roams free.

But as Steven Pinker, the author of Enlightenment Now points out, we humans tend to “take the world’s gifts for granted, including “newborns who will live more than eight decades, markets overflowing with food, clean water that appears with a flick of a finger and waste that disappears with another, pills that erase a painful infection, sons who are not sent off to war, daughters who can walk the streets in safety, critics of the powerful who are not jailed or shot, the world’s knowledge and culture available in a shirt pocket.”

You gotta admit, that’s a pretty persuasive list. But I don’t think it’s just at the “macro” level that life on the planet Earth, and in particular in America, is getting better all the time. Small things about life are better than when I was a kid, too.

Here are a few things on my list. I’d love to hear yours.

Movies – Whenever I watch movies made before, say, 1970, I’m stunned at how much the art of movie-making has progressed at every level – from scripting to special effects.

Food – When I was a kid, we always got a jumbo-sized orange or grapefruit in our Christmas stockings. A lot of kids did. I didn’t realize why at the time, but it was because top-notch citrus simply wasn’t as available in stores (particularly in the U.P.) as it is today, and was thus a huge treat, worthy of anchoring the toe of a Christmas stocking. Today’s food distribution system is infinitely better than just a few decades ago. I like grocery shopping, just because it still amazes me how different today’s stores are from those of my youth.

Ketchup bottles with the dispenser on the bottom not the top – Yeah, it’s a small thing – until you use one of the old-fashioned glass bottles and have to bang and bang on the bottom of the stupid thing until you get annoyed and jam a knife down there to start the flow. Product packaging of all kinds is far better these days.

The Internet – In our house, whenever we have a question about something, we say, “Pull out the miracle machine and find out.” Meaning a cell phone. It’s almost unbelievable that we all have access to the world’s accumulated knowledge in the palms of our hands. Granted, we mostly use that power to swap emojis, but it’s still incredible. Before the web, if you had a question, you looked it up in the Encyclopedia Britannica. (Cue my kids: “The what?”)

Email your lists to I’ll use the best in a future column.


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