The image you see above? It’s the Motorola DynaTAC 8000x. It was the world’s first commercially available cellphone. Introduced in 1983, it retailed for $3,995, had a talk time of half an hour, and weighed 1.75 pounds. Oh, and it cost you 7 dollars for each minute you talked on it. Wall Street, one of the iconic movies of the 80s, had Gordon Gekko, the original master of the financial universe alpha dog, walk along the beach talking to that brick. And it was supposed to make him look like the most ballinest of ballers.
Fast forward 31 years, and we have Apple iPhones and Samsung Galaxy S phones. They’re a billion times more powerful (not an exaggeration) in terms of raw computing power, have 20 times as much talk time, weigh an eighth as much and are usually bundled with unlimited talk plans that cost about 40 dollars a month. And the unit cost of a top end smartphone? Around 700 dollars today, which is worth about 300 dollars back in 1983.
The cellphone used to be an expensive plaything for the richest people in the wealthiest society on Earth. Today, people consider a cellphone as a basic human right. The Federal government even has a program dedicated to subsidizing cell service for lower income families. How times have changed. And yet, when politicians and economists talk about stagnant incomes, we just nod our heads and murmur in agreement. Because we’ve been spoiled by the modern economy.
We’ve been spoiled into thinking that prices are always supposed to get cheaper. That basic goods and services are always supposed to improve. Computers and phones are expected to be more powerful and less expensive with each passing year. TVs are supposed to get bigger and cheaper with each new generation. Cars have gotten bigger, faster, more luxurious, and prices have essentially stayed in line with inflation.
With each passing year we, the consumers of America, demand more. What’s even more ridiculous? We actually get it! We’ve taken technological progress as a given. That everything is supposed to get better with time, and yet we don’t appreciate the colossal effort it takes to keep the modern economy running.
Things weren’t always like this. In fact, for the vast majority of human history, life was poor, nasty, brutish, and short. It’s only since the 20th century that lives began to significantly improve for the common worker. It is amazing how much we take for granted.
Every day on Thought Catalog, at least a dozen spoiled Generation Y Americans complain about things that would have been completely incomprehensible to people living just a century ago. Cellphone bills are too expensive! We can’t get emotionally fulfilling jobs! Guys catcall attractive women in the street! Conservatives want to eliminate government subsidies on contraceptives! Life is so unfair, you guys!
Can we stop and smell the roses for a second? The average American lives a lifestyle that would have been unimaginably luxurious to the King of England two centuries ago. Rather than acknowledging how amazing each and every one of our lives are, all we do is complain about how we aren’t being given our due.
Don’t get me wrong, life is still unfair. But life has always been unfair. How blessed are we, to be able to be in a position where people actively debate what is “fair” and then work towards building a more fair society? Because it used to just be a bunch of men running around and clubbing other men over the head and then hearing the lamentations of their womenfolk.
We live in privileged times. All of us. If you’re reading this, you have a great life. Please keep that in mind the next time you call somebody Hitler for disagreeing with your beliefs.