- Cars. In every metric. Safety, handling, speed, reliability. Cup holders! Across the board, every model is better than its counterpart, and not just by a little. It’s probably even arguable that every car sold in the US this year is better than any car sold up until about 1989. Maybe a ’63 Stingray is more cool, but it’s slower, handles worse, the steering wheel would punch through your chest in a crash, and it doesn’t have cup holders.
Of course, cars are just more expensive overall too. They should be better. Where’s the 2016 equivalent of the entry model ’84 Civic for an inflation-adjusted $15k? What is the cheapest entry level car you can get new these days? Perhaps it’s the 2012 Civic with 100k miles on it that will go another 150k miles with a bit of love… and that’s more than three times as much as I got out of my teenage Ford or Chevy..
Scratch that. My search-fu failed me. You can get the cheapest car from a name manufacturer for about $12k, which in inflation-adjusted dollars, is about a grand cheaper than my ’84 CRX was new. Plus it has cup holders, and ABS, and probably a few other things that make it way safer, though probably less fun to drive than that super-lightweight boy racer. The new car will also probably also get a couple hundred thousand miles too.
- Flashlights. Flashlights never worked. They were always dead or broke when you needed them. C or D batteries. We kept kerosene lanterns around for when the electricity went out. Now I have about a dozen little bulletproof lights ranging from EDC to deer-poaching in brightness, whose AAA or A or 123 or 18250 batteries I never have to replace, and are stupid programmable. Cheap enough that they are scattered about in 15 different places. Stashed in backpacks, glove boxes, coat jackets, bedside tables, attached to bikes, helmets, and guns… The last one I bought on a whim cost about $10 and will probably never break until the battery finally corrodes it.
- Knives. Maybe there were decent knives to be had someplace, but I grew up with Uncle Henry and Buck, and steak knives that were more useful as chisels. Uncle Henry ain’t a patch on a Spyderco PM2, and a Kabar ain’t a SOG Seal STE, much less a Fallkniven A2. In the kitchen, I have three pretty great chef’s knives, one of which was $25 and will probably see me out and I don’t care if it doesn’t. I can just get another that will. It’s still sharper and better than every single kitchen knife I ever got for graduation/moving/housewarming, including the $150 Wusthof from the mid-80s.
- Food. I never had fresh vegetables and produce for years, aside from that that we grew ourselves. And we didn’t grow spinach, avocados, or oranges. Not to mention quinoa, fish, broccoli, or wine. I can get any of this anywhere (Germany excepted) and really good stuff at Bristol Farms. Though Valencia probably spoiled me for any orange I’ll ever be able to find over here ever again.
- Comms. Really, Dick Tracy has nothing on me.
- Stereos. I had to spend $2.5k in the eighties to get a decent sound system. And yeah, the Carvers and Yamahas and Mcintosh from those years are still desirable. But everything I can buy these days has equivalent or better specs, even for a couple hundred bucks. It’s difficult to buy a system that just sounds crappy. For the same price, inflation adjusted or not, I can get a sound system that would just blow my 1980s Marty McFly socks off.
- Bicycles. Lighter, more reliable, less in need of tuning, fewer flats. Less invisible, see flashlights above. Also see Camera subheading GoPro.
- Shoelaces don’t break anymore.
Of course, everything is better (tomatoes and violins excepted). Computers didn’t exist for all practical purposes. Printers. Cameras. Digital music. Some things have clearly gotten just above and beyond, and I’m really comparing to things that existed in olden days, not things like iPhones that didn’t.
When was the last time I worried about getting stranded on the side of the road?