“Dogs that do not bark”: Gwern Branwen on unseen progress since the 1990s

Progress is usually debated in terms of the big things like lifting the Third World out of poverty, eliminating child mortality, or science & tech: discovering gravitational waves, creating world champion AIs, turning AIDS into a treatable rather than terminal disease, conquering hepatitis C or, curing deadly cancers with genetically-engineered T-cells. But as cool as those big things are, and matters of life-and-death for many, such achievements tend to be remote from ordinary people, and not your everyday sort of thing (or so one hopes). Small stuff matters too. What about the little things in an ordinary life?

The seen and the unseen. When I think back, so many hassles have simply disappeared from my life, and nice new things appeared. I remember my desk used to be crowded with things like dictionaries and pencil sharpeners, but between smartphones & computers, most of my desk space is now dedicated to cats. Ordinary life had a lot of hassles too, I remembered once I started thinking about it. (“The past is a third world country”, but America in the 1990s could also have used some improvement.)

These things rarely come up because so many of them are about removing irritations or creating new possibilities—dogs that do not bark, and ‘the seen and the unseen’—and how quickly we forget that the status quo was not always so. The hardest thing to see can be that which you no longer see. I thought it would be interesting to try to remember the forgotten. Limiting myself to my earliest relatively clear memories of everyday life in the mid-1990s, I still wound up making a decent-sized list of improvements to my ordinary life…

My Ordinary Life: Improvements Since the 1990s

It’s a fun read. What unnoticed improvements would you list?

I'd love to hear your thoughts and recommended resources...