"What has gotten materially better in America in, say, the last twenty years?" David Walsh, a University of Virginia postdoctoral fellow, casually asked on Twitter yesterday.
Hundreds of responses poured in, citing everything from consumer goods to medical treatments to cultural attitudes, laws, and Brussels sprouts.
The overwhelming number of responses and their variety provides a nice reminder that a lot of stuff really has been getting better over the past few decades and American society isn't really the perpetual motion fail machine many people make it out to be. In the interest of celebrating progress, here's a sampling (in no particular order) of those responses…
What's Gotten Better in the Past 20 Years?
1. Home entertainment
switch your TV to low resolution mode once and see what type of poverty we used to live in https://t.co/CyPHEnp5rw
— Tyler Conway (@jtylerconway) August 30, 2021
In 2001 if you missed an episode of your favorite tv show you used to have to just, like, hope that a tv network would put it on tv again one day. https://t.co/TsB9LPg3HU
— Mike L. Goodman (@TheM_L_G) August 30, 2021
the quality of television dramas
— Aryeh Cohen-Wade (@AryehCW) August 30, 2021
The Big Bang theory is no longer on the air for starters https://t.co/TyD38YM7bm
— i think dalton should thembo (@TheThembo) August 31, 2021
2. Crime rates
Violent crime has dropped like a rock. pic.twitter.com/weFrlVIIuG
— John Irvine is vaxed and so can you (@jeirvine) August 30, 2021
3. Micromobility options
The quality and cost of electric micromobility have dramatically improved. For the price of a single 2001 Segway, you can now buy 16 commute-ready e-scooters. We're really just waiting on cities to wake up. https://t.co/TNABguydNo pic.twitter.com/kBsx7ZAnaU
— ???????????????????? ???????????????? (@mnolangray) August 31, 2021
4. Better cannabis quality
Being able to walk into a store and buy high-quality weed is a big improvement. https://t.co/kubgTNxch6
— Tim Marchman (@timmarchman) August 30, 2021
5. Information access:
Access to information https://t.co/INUjDlzGjS
— Flip (@ebrwn_7) August 30, 2021
Lots of things:
-The cost of technology. Even people of modest means can now have access to new technology really quickly.
-Food is much more varied everywhere.
-Easier/faster/cheaper to communicate with people.
-Knowledge is much easier to get if you know where to go. https://t.co/QvqtAvh1PT
— Mat Vaillancourt (@MVLibertas) August 30, 2021
my internet speeds ???? the days of waiting half an hour to buffer a twenty minute video are long gone, may they rest in peace https://t.co/MOlZnxKfBr
— jay! (@AOBaumbach) August 31, 2021
Better accessibility to international media (TV, movies, books, music, comics, everything-Thank you translators!) https://t.co/AXijvukdMg
— Frank Skornia (@FSkornia) August 30, 2021
It might be controversial, but communications technology. Social media has real negative effects, but the ability to instantly read and watch anything you want, or communicate with anyone, is a big deal.
— Peter Sterne???? (@petersterne) August 30, 2021
6. Acceptance of neurodiversity
Diagnosis, acceptance, and treatment of developmental/intellectual disabilities. https://t.co/Td202APdLe
— Luke (@wraphouse01) August 31, 2021
Our diagnostic criteria for, understanding of, and vocabulary around neurodiversity.
Cannabis laws (in some places, anyway).
The visibility and resulting relative safety of gender diverse people (but we've still got a long way to go to on this one). https://t.co/5aZyZ6vxqs
— Manda @ pre-order DRAGONSTORM (@MandaTheGinger) August 31, 2021
7. Restaurant food variety and quality
In the 80s, Chinese takeout and the Italian place were the "ethnic" food options, and considered a bit exotic in much of the country. Coffee was like, Folgers Crystals.
The availability of so much more in the food/bev category - though often unaffordable - is noticeable. https://t.co/nm4nsN7eLe
— Mass for Shut-ins (Podcast) (@edburmila) August 30, 2021
It's already been said a million times but food is just drastically better. The only thing you could get at a restaurant in 2001 was like a plain grilled chicken breast over iceberg lettuce. https://t.co/U7mGRtYxXY
— jordan (@nu_handen) August 30, 2021
8. Attitudes toward LGBTQ people and their treatment under the law:
Being LGBTQ sucks SO MUCH LESS now than it used to. https://t.co/6FCeG0OdC0
— ???????????????? (@MizDanaClaire) August 30, 2021
Gay marriage https://t.co/ZYeyz4FXrS
— Ayana Haviv (@ayanahaviv) August 30, 2021
Trans rights. https://t.co/Fd7ClCNJCE
— Kalany (@kalanyy) August 31, 2021
It is amazing how quickly public attitudes towards queer people have changed in the last 20 years. https://t.co/TK0rwaE7RS
— Yonatan (@yonatanb) August 31, 2021
In the last 15 years the overall openness and tolerance of lgbtq students among their peers has demonstrably improved.
I see kids being openly who they are far more today than when I started.
— Eldritch Millennial (@BmoreBaker42) August 30, 2021
Go watch a movie made in the late 90's and see how prevalent casual homophobia was. In, like, everything.
— Too Big To Fail (@Too_Big_To_Fail) August 30, 2021
9. Convenience food options
Cold caffeine and on-the-go meal replacement products. You walk into most gas stations and convenience stores and in stock they have protein bars in a Willy Wonky-like variety of flavors & artificially sweetened mostly palatable drinks with enough caffeine to send you to the moon https://t.co/cKs6slhZw9
— Sam Raskin (@samraskinz) August 30, 2021
The only real answer here is "fast food chicken sandwiches" https://t.co/6LzRk4H0xG
— Chrispy (@HowMuchForGoat) August 30, 2021
10. Being an introvert and/or misanthrope:
there's a taco spot in my neighborhood that lets you order over text and pay on venmo so you don't have to talk to anyone when you want tacos https://t.co/IonKm7h0Qx
— julia reinstein ???? (@juliareinstein) August 31, 2021
11. The digital reading experience:
Ebook readers https://t.co/Q1k5ZTR94V
— Chris Scullion (@scully1888) August 30, 2021
12. HIV care:
HIV is now a treatable chronic condition rather than a death sentence. https://t.co/GGpmvKxHmH
— Daniel Daire (@misterscampers) August 30, 2021
13. Alcohol options:
Beer. In early 2000s, beer was just awful in New York. Heineken was considered good beer. https://t.co/LXPwk1wb8f
— Onur Özgöde (@ummodern) August 31, 2021
Such a good one. When I arrived in DC in 2006, I was pleased if I went to a bar and was able to get…a Yuengling ????
— Central NJ Yimby ???????????????? (@YIMBY_Princeton) August 30, 2021
Wide availability of good craft beer. So much so that I've gotten sick of it and moved on. But every little gas station and convenience store now has decent beer whereas 20 years it would have been all and only Anheuser-Busch.
— Chris Sturr (@ChrisSturr) August 30, 2021
Cocktail bars, the power of modern medicine, dope pizza spots. https://t.co/xlFQFEEQoJ
— Leif Brostrom (@leiftheviking) August 30, 2021
14. Options if you don't want alcohol:
Non-alcoholic beer and VST amp sims for recording guitar. Two things I can no longer do the old fashioned way and almost don't even miss https://t.co/KVyEwh8EiC
— matthew ellis (@matthiasellis) August 30, 2021
15. Mental health treatment:
ALSO, the number of and social acceptability of medication to treat anxiety and depression. https://t.co/j38e3vxTOH
— Sarah ????????⬛☕???????????? (@sosomanysarahs) August 31, 2021
16. Automobile efficiency and safety:
Cars. Much more efficient, safer, quieter. https://t.co/zDxQmpLEHO
— David Maybury (@DavidCMaybury) August 30, 2021
Access to sustainable, lightweight electric vehicles in cities. https://t.co/lt1Yj0poCj
— Russell Murphy ???????????? (@RussMurphNY) August 30, 2021
— Ashwin Varma (@varma_ashwin97) August 31, 2021
Cars are so much better that it's ridiculous. Quieter, better handling, safer, faster, less polluting. They're rather more expensive, but even then, the average 2020 Hyundai beats the pants off the average 2000 Hyundai *and* the average 2000 Mercedes
— chatham harrison dba SENATUS DELENDUS EST (@chathamharrison) August 30, 2021
17. Transportation options for people without cars
The ability to transport people or things without owning a car for folks above the poverty line, through tech-enabled, on-demand car rental, grocery, and food delivery services. Huge improvement to quality of life. https://t.co/2tug49ZOs0
— Aarjav Trivedi (@aarjav) August 30, 2021
18. The ability to get around without getting lost
Aside from the big obvious ones, for me it's getting directions. I am TERRIBLE at directions. Mapquest literally changed my life. https://t.co/HXKBboi6DH
— Kingfisher & Wombat (@UrsulaV) August 31, 2021
The ability to not get lost while driving in an unfamiliar area. No printing directions or asking a local or finding a gas station with a map https://t.co/1AOVIr1d6c
— Brad "Signore Pane" Fuerbringer (@BardLee4) August 30, 2021
19. Specialty diet/food options
Vegan products: availability, variety, and quality. Color printing. Cocktails. https://t.co/SPlgjyZYv9
— Mandarina Atómica (@epicharmus) August 30, 2021
Even in the last 5-10 years vegetarian food options have completely changed and are significantly more popular and accessible and also fake meat tastes way better https://t.co/z9tgPu9ls0
— Shannon Strucci (@plentyofalcoves) August 30, 2021
As a lactose intolerant person, the dairy-free scientists have been kicking ass the last 10 years. We used to have to pretend Tofutti was good, now we can have legit @benandjerrys .
— christopher duff (@cjd11) August 30, 2021
We're living through a vegan cheese renaissance
— ???????????????????? (@gracie_chaos) August 30, 2021
20. Being a nerd
Twenty years ago all my comic nerd friends would go all out making everyone attend any movie adaptation, because they were worried Hollywood would stop producing them https://t.co/2KUSCWFKMM
— C????sey at the ???? (@Ela_Hadrun) August 31, 2021
21. Phone calls (or lack of them)
Telephones/no long distance charges, no texting charges, ability to communicate nationally and globally by internet/social media with a portable phone. https://t.co/KlNMKy8OwQ
— Cynthia McDonald living my best life she/her (@mccindy72) August 30, 2021
In the 90s I paid 10-15¢/minute to call NYC from CT. Now I can video chat with coworkers in other countries for free.
— Jesse "anti-car crossword maven" Lansner ???????? (@Jesselansner) August 30, 2021
22. Getting dressed
there are so many things that have gotten so much better that we don't even notice.
Like, advances in materials sciences have made super soft fabrics dirt cheap and completely ubiquitous. A $9 sweat shirt at Walmart would be nicer than basically anything you can buy in 2001. https://t.co/S7JMhTogBv
— Allan (@AvianDentures) August 30, 2021
23. Cancer treatment
Cancer treatment pic.twitter.com/ETfmPhXKu3
— Bailey Steinworth (@baileys) August 30, 2021
24. Weather reports
Weather forecasting. pic.twitter.com/BTti2zrMW5
— Gwen C. Katz (@gwenckatz) August 30, 2021
25. Bicycling infrastructure
Bikeway design. 20 years ago a 5' striped shoulder was a big deal in a city. Now people demand much, much more protection and space.
— Sean Hayford Oleary (@sdho) August 30, 2021
Cycling infrastructure, and the proliferation of bike sharing programs in particular is incredible. Safe, affordable, opens up cities in a new way.
— Seb (@Sebastianos15) August 30, 2021
Cameras on phones
Damn I can't believe I went like 25+ years of my life without a camera phone let alone a good one
— Mel (@Melethonomia) August 31, 2021
27. Avocado access
Access to avocados in places outside of California/Southwest.
— Josephine Robertson (@crazywholelife) August 31, 2021
28. Hygiene products
Maxi pads and diapers are phenomenally better. Way, way more absorbent. Truly magic.
— Lowinchen (@lowinchen) August 31, 2021
a weird one, but when I arrived in the US it was difficult to get shower gel: people had bar soap in these little plastic boxes. This was very annoying, esp at e.g. the gym. Anyway, shower gel is now triumphant. https://t.co/pi3Xz0HhJX
— Arthur Spirling (@arthur_spirling) August 30, 2021
29. Video games
video game graphics are pretty good now https://t.co/XDjviwxThA
— Brandon (@Thatoneguy64) August 30, 2021
30. Access to fruits and vegetables
Farmers Markets https://t.co/93sd2hlUZG
— Poor Mr Bunbury (@CtownBnnaPantz) August 30, 2021
31. Gambling laws
Gambling on sports legally https://t.co/Bt3OBk44y6
— Rick, Giants 10-7 Believer (@TheRickRosen) August 30, 2021
32. Movie theaters
you guys got those movie theaters with the reclining seats, those are pretty good https://t.co/jasEJ83BGq
— breakdancing robot that caught on fire (@voellig) August 30, 2021
33. Digital video
Streaming and download speeds are incredible. https://t.co/QqIsekn1Bp
— Masamage (@masamage) August 31, 2021
Accessibility to high-end video tools and distribution platforms. You really don't need much other than a cell phone to make a full-length movie if you really wanted to do it. https://t.co/HdJWRwJGdJ
— Jose Argumedo (@ArguingMeadows) August 31, 2021
34. Democratization of the public sphere
Ability for marginalized people to have their voices heard and form communities with others in their situationhttps://t.co/j6N7BiRW51
— Ian (@muddymudskipper) August 30, 2021
35. Clean energy
The price, availability, and efficiency of renewable energy.
— Gregory Brew (@gbrew24) August 30, 2021
36. Access to diverse music
internationalism in music. that k-pop and reggaeton are able to dominate the charts without being labeled fads is a good thing
— David Grossman (@davidgross_man) August 30, 2021
37. Body positivity
this is a cool thread. my earnest contribution: I think a lot about how many young girls are growing up with the existence of the body positivity movement, and how happy — and envious — I am of them for that https://t.co/DJ3xg7dSB2
— Rachel Holliday Smith (@rachelholliday) August 30, 2021
38. Smoking rates
Smoking rates are down! https://t.co/1dpoWprpoF
— Kenan Anderson (@KenanAnderson1) August 30, 2021
39. Carbonated beverages
— Ashley (@ashweck) August 30, 2021
Alcoholic fizzy water https://t.co/ol8DtdePC3
— Mark O'Neill (@failedvagabond) August 31, 2021
zero calorie coca cola https://t.co/rnUKPZh3HJ
— woke assad ???? (@FooleryThomas) August 31, 2021
40. A lot of people's behinds, apparently
My ass lmaaaaaaoooo https://t.co/s4XjhSsWWT
— manufacturing croissant (@bergerdbeans) August 31, 2021
my ass https://t.co/Hk6BdgAOM3
— proud italian ally ???????????? (@capittalism) August 31, 2021
my ass https://t.co/w9n0WxyKsu
— ????✨???? Yþgeƿinn ????✨???? (@sladeofyaupon) August 30, 2021
Answers relating to food, alcohol, marijuana, coffee, computing, and TV—areas no one can deny have improved since the turn of the century—seem to be the most prevalent. And, despite a diverse set of answers both quirky and serious, there's still a whole lot of progress that's gone unmentioned. As a number of people commented, it may be easier to list things that haven't gotten better over the past two decades.
Literally almost everything. The outliers stand out so much because everything else either got better marginally (i.e. travel costs) or by leaps and bounds (communications tech) https://t.co/a9qWcBTp9o
— Jacob Nestle (@jacob_nestle) August 30, 2021
???? A lot.
— HumanProgress.org (@HumanProgress) August 31, 2021