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Better Yet

As the economy seems to be sliding into recession, and pundits claim the walls of the world are crumbling all around us, my experience of the past three days helped me put things into perspective. (particularly in regard to how things compare even to 7 years ago during the last recession)

  • I needed a place to stay for a week here in Rochester. I called up the cheapest motel, Motel 6, to secure a reservation for a week. That would have set me back about $350. Someone reminded me about Craigslist. The service was virtually non-existent in most places 7 years ago. In a matter of 5 minutes I was able to place an ad indicating that I wished to have a room for a week, and to search available listings in Rochester. Result: one day after my search, and consuming at most 10 total minutes of my time, I was able to secure a room near campus (fully furnished, with laundry and kitchen) for just $125. The women from whom I am renting used this extra cash to pay a big vet bill.
  • The statistics won’t indicate much as changed in terms of supermarket options in Henrietta – there was one Wegmans in 2001 and there is one Wegmans there today. But yesterday morning I attended the grand opening of the Henrietta Wegmans (the old one is now closed). The new Wegmans employs more workers and is an extraordinarily pleasant place to shop. It includes a huge bakery, prepared foods section, sushi bar, etc. that were not in the old store. My favorite part of the store is that many of the shopping wagons have little plastic contraptions on them that allow customers to place their coffee (and perhaps a bagel) while they shop.
  • I thought shopping at Wal-mart on a Saturday evening would make sense if I wanted to take my time and avoid crowds. How wrong I was! Many students at R.I.T. (just down the road from us at UR) arrived on that day. I went in to get a small fridge for my office. Was I out of luck? No way! Not only did I find one, I found one twice the size I expected, and for 20% less money than I spent on a smaller one as an undergrad 15 years ago. And dozens more remained neatly stacked at both the front entrance and in the appliance aisle. In addition, I was able to secure two 24 oz. plastic cereal bowls for $1.80; one small plastic plate for $0.79; six metal tablespoons for $1.00, 6 knives for $1.00 and 3 forks for $1.00. Think about that. I got a metal spoon for less than 17 cents – a spoon that I will use nearly every day for several years of eating cereal. So not only was I not gouged during this time of peak demand, but the prices I paid were so low as to almost be ignorable. And I never called Wal-mart to tell them I was coming, much less to tell them what I wanted!
  • As I drive around this new town listening to an iPod that holds 5,000 songs and over 500 lectures, I worry nothing about getting lost or finding my way around. I simply touch the screen of a Tom-Tom portable GPS device and it tells me and shows me where to go. It even brings up the phone numbers of the places I am interested in seeing. Not only was this technology barely available in 2001, it is available today for around $200.
  • I miss my kids (we are living apart until we can sell our home). But I don’t have to wait for letters in the mail, or CD recordings of my wife and kids. I woke up yesterday to a message on my cell phone with a picture of our daughter and an audio recording of her voice telling me “good morning daddy!”
  • I am writing this post on a Sunday morning from my new version of Microsoft Word. Did WordPress even exist in 2001? Much less have the ability to be accessed via cell phones, Flickr and word processors?

Does this mean that some people are not suffering? No. But untold millions have been made better off in unimaginably numerous ways, in a very short period of time. These are just some events I ripped from the top of my head from my experiencs in just my last three days. Perhaps some of these are frivolous pleasures, but they have made my life more enjoyable and fuller in a huge way. And I bet they have made the lives of the people producing these wonders better too. And just think of all of the important advances in medicine, agriculture, transportation, etc. that have occured in the past 7 years? I am certainly better off – even though in real terms my salary is lower today than it was in 1997.

The fact that we can even consider a question like, “Are you better off today?” is testament to just how well off we are. When living standards go unchanged for millenia on end, it is simply astounding to think that we can recognize advances in just a 7 year period. That we have come to expect these advances says even more. The most remarkable thing about these advances, even the ones that I highlight above from my personal experience, is that no one planned for these improvements to come about. No one orchestrated it. There is no well-being puppet-master. Yet it happens. And continues to happen. I can’t even wrap my mind around what the next 7 years might bring – so long as no one tries to bring it on themself.

One Response to “Better Yet”

  1. skh.pcola says:

    {progressive thinking}
    Yeah, but none of that matters when the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer
    {/progressive thinking}

    Great post and all points that should be considered when comparing contemporary conditions to those of N years ago. But, as my (realistic) snark above demonstrates, your valid points are disregarded in the class struggle of the success enviers.

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