Young people can be forgiven if they fantasize about building a luxurious life, filled with the trappings of immense wealth. That wish for affluence works out better for some than for most.
Many would suggest that riches of a different kind are more important — things like happiness, health, and family, for example. I can’t dispute that.
However, I’m thinking that life in the early 21st century is pretty luxurious for most of us, relatively speaking, when it comes to physical possessions. All we have to do is compare our lifestyle today with that of Americans only a few decades ago.
Let’s take Groundhog Day, for example, and please do take it… away. I’ve grown tired of the mid-winter hype over a fable whose only redeeming virtue is the surge of tourism it brings to the central Pennsylvania community from which “Phil” takes his name. Other places observe the tradition, too, but none is as celebrated as the event in Punxsutawney.
There was a time in the past when people were forced to look to nature for clues regarding what the weather might bring. But today, we have the clear luxury of generally accurate weather forecasts that foretell conditions not only for tomorrow, but also days in advance.
Scientific breakthroughs and many other innovations we now consider necessities weren’t around even a generation or two ago, and if they were, they were reserved only for the extremely rich.
Cellular telephones, which are actually computers combined with television sets that (incidentally) make phone calls, were indeed luxuries when they first became commercially available in 1983. By 2014, more than seven billion mobile phone subscriptions had been purchased worldwide, even reaching the bottom tier of the economic divide.
Automobiles are another “luxury” that the vast majority of Americans own — 88 percent of us based on 2014 figures. Vehicles themselves continue to get more opulent. Even basic ones feature as standard equipment once optional accessories like power windows, air-conditioning, and automatic transmissions. Want to talk on your cell phone through the radio? They’ve got you covered.
Perhaps most of all, the typical home these days is much larger, more comfortable, and stocked with more conveniences than single-family housing has ever known. What we “average” Americans have in our possession would seem like luxuries indeed to our great-grandparents and their children.
Of course, the things they considered luxuries were different. Luxuries included how many horses they had in the barn, or how close the well was to their cabin so they didn’t have to haul water a great distance. Past generations no doubt aspired to the greater luxuries they saw available to the “wealthy” people of their day, but to our way of thinking, even the wealthy people of yesteryear had some things pretty rough.
When we start counting our blessings, the “average” person in America and the industrialized world never had it so good. Prior generations would consider miraculous our clean water, community sanitation, rapid forms of transportation, instant communication and information, and medical advances.
However, society does not stand still. Life should get even better, and hopefully more people in the world will be able to share. Those living decades from now will probably marvel at how “primitive” life was for us.
We can only guess what advances will comes about in the generations that follow, and how those developments will make the luxuries of today seem so rudimentary.
Gene Deason is editor emeritus of the Brownwood Bulletin. His column appears on Fridays. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.