1987: The last Victorians

The clocks just went back and our evening’s suddenly got a lot darker, so I was really glad when I popped to the post office and my new toys had arrived. I have got myself a very powerful white LED torch for the front of my bike and a fancy new laser rear light that projects two parallel red lines behind me, to create a virtual bike lane around me as I cycle.

It’s a really small thing, but it is another example that we are living in the future.

We have just experienced the worst storm since 1987. As I was out and about, I am ashamed to say that I was a little disappointed to not see more carnage. If you did experience any significant damage to your property then I am very, very sorry if I seem insensitive, but to be honest having spent the night worrying about the tree outside our house coming in on us I was disappointed to see that the only trees that had bitten the dust last night were sort of smallish medium sized ones of a single species.

I don’t really remember 1987 I was 4 years old, so I thought I would take a quick look online and try and work out for myself how the world has changed in the last 26 years.

It is almost half a degree C warmer and there is about 13% more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and 2100,000,000 more people live on the planet. British Airways is in private hands now, The Simpsons is still going, as is the rugby world cup which both started that year but the Berlin wall has fallen and unfortunately the Dusky Sea sparrow was not the last species to be driven to extinction.

Computers are loads better now. I do remember the boast that there was more computing power in a Gameboy (1989) than it took to get men on the moon, well guess what, we now think Gameboys are rubbish! They’re basically more like rocks than modern computing devises.
Houses on average were £40,000, they are now £200,000 but on the other hand microwaves have really come down in price. 90% of households own one now rather than the 25% in 1987 which had one, so it’s not all bad.

To be fair in Western Europe in the last ten years only drug offenses have increased. All other forms of crime have decreased and the global picture looks even better: All world total battle fatalities jumped 65 percent in 2011/ 2012 because of Syria, but remain less than one-fifth of the average level of the 1980s.

So the truth is that some stuff is worse now: the average age of a first time mum is now 29.8 years rather than 24 years and the average age of a first time home buyer is 35 as opposed to 24 years in the past. In fact in London the average age of a first time buyer is now a not so spritely 52years old.

But many things are much, much better now. Electronics are much cheaper and therefore entertainment and communication is much cheaper. Gas, petrol and steel are more expensive, but then there are quite a lot more people competing for those essential things. Most of us now live in cities, huddled together we will probably use less materials per head than in the past, and it has to be a good thing that globally more people are better educated.

So in conclusion; I can now order a 500 lumen light emitting diode lights for my bike. In 1987 this would not have been possible because neither the internet nor the high intensity white LED had been invented. It’s harder than ever to own your own home and/or procreate, but you get HBO dramas on Sky Atlantic pretty much the same day they are out in the USA and the entirety of human knowledge can be accessed instantly in moments.

Looking back to 1987 amuses me, because I can’t help but think in the fossil record there will be a sort of visible fossil layer that appears in the late 80’s early 1990’s. I think it will be the change over from the industrial Victorian period were everything was mechanical, and then the age we are living in now, which I think is electrical, but who knows what it will turn out to be.

My old bike lights had a bulb. Just think about how ridiculous that is. Even lighting your home off the mains that way is ridiculous. A bulb works by heating a filament until it is so hot, that it glows white hot. That means we used to light our homes and our bikes with electric heaters that just happen to give off some light. Don’t get me wrong. It’s a very pragmatic Victorian approach, but sophisticated it is not.

We are wrecking the climate so storms like St Jude will increase in intensity and become more frequent. Technology means we are much better at predicting the weather so some of the damage to our stuff is mitigated. Any animals without a web connection will just have to take their chances. Humans are safer and more comfortable now than they have ever been. We are fatter and less healthy, but safer for sure. In developing nations people are being lifted out of poverty faster than at any other time in history, but in the west living standards have arguably plateaued at a quite high level.

I personally am a bit of a fan of the present and am very hopeful about the future. I have tried to be as objective about the differences between the Britain hit by St Jude and the Great storm of 1987. How you feel about these differences is up to you.

Personally I think it is interesting and important to be aware of the areas where we really are worse off than in the past. But it is equally important to acknowledge where we are materially much better off.