December 27, 2009 33 Comments
You know how a cornerstone of most futuristic fiction is that things get better? There’s something called progress in store for us. Think of the airplane flight depicted in 2001 – a Pan Am airplane flight from the earth, to a space station. With comfy seats, plenty of room to sleep, even private video-phone booths. Even in dystopian futuristic fiction (like post-apocalyptic stories), in which things obviously aren’t better, the setting still tends to show that stuff got better before the big nuclear war or whatever destroyed everything.
On that note, here are some things that haven’t gotten better.
- air travel. Obviously. Demeaning security lines (take off your shoes! shoes = dangerous!), ‘oversold’ flights are the norm, some airlines now charge for luggage and food, and if I’m not mistaken planes just plain have less space than they used to.
- toilets. If you’d told someone in the ’50s that the toilet of the future would be weaker-flushing and just plain flimsier than the ones they already had, would they have believed you?
- electronic equipment longevity. Obviously the iPhone is a wonder and we have gadgets galore that can do things that supercomputers couldn’t do in 1980, but it struck me recently that I’ve been using a digital alarm clock that has been functioning perfectly for 30+ years (I am not its first user). There was a time I actually re-sold a boom box. Nowadays people switch out their cell phones every two years, and the nice new stereo you get from Best Buy will collect dust and feel like such a piece of crap four years from now you’ll probably just throw it out when you buy another. Electronics have become commodities, and near-disposables.
- (paper) grocery bags. I remember when grocery bags were bigger than they are now. They really just used to be bigger. I don’t know when or how it happened but somehow a decree went out at some point to make them all about 10% smaller. Yes they now usually have handles, which I suppose is an improvement (though you can rarely rely on them), but why are they all smaller?
- parking spaces. When I was growing up the local supermarket had nice, long, spacious, diagonal parking spaces. Diagonal parking spaces – i.e. the best kind of parking spaces known to man – are becoming a thing of the past. The thing of the future is cramped, tiny, perpendicular parking spaces that require 3-point turns 90% of the time. Again, I don’t know when this decree went out, but it apparently did – no more diagonal parking in new developments. Even the lot in front of my old local grocery store (which of course now has an extra building with a Starbuck’s and Subway in it on the parking-lot corner) has gone all perpendicular. So, so sad.
- fast-food packaging. Used to be, when you went to a McDonald’s you’d get all your food in nice styrofoam containers, that unfolded and made convenient platters. Now, wherever you go, you get a flat, limp burger wrapped in flimsy paper. This reduces the experience, at least for me.
Now, some of this will sound like whining to you. You may dispute some of it by saying ‘but that’s only because [logical reasons X, Y, Z]‘. Fine, but I don’t think that rebuts my basic point: these things have all gotten worse not better.
The interesting question, then, is why have these things all gotten worse? What made them get worse? What has hindered them from getting better? I think I know. Hint: some of these things, anyway, have a lot in common.