But there are still a lot of everyday things that I take for granted—things I’m so used to that I never even think to include them on my list, because they’re just too “normal” to even come to mind. Here are five of them. Perhaps you don’t appreciate these things enough, either.
1. My Smartphone
I’ve got an iPhone 4, a hand-me-down from my dad a year or so ago. It’s alright—it does everything I need—but the glass on the back shattered when I dropped it a few months back, so it doesn’t look that great. The screen is nowhere near as big as the screen on my boyfriend’s Nexus 5, so it’s harder to read stuff on, and the Internet isn’t that fast, so I can’t always look up what I want when I’m out and about.
Let’s step back for a sec. I have this small, metal object that fits in my hand, which allows me to talk to someone hundreds of miles away in an instant, for mere pennies. It works by sending signals (or something?) up to a satellite and then sending them back down to someone who could be on the other side of the world. It’s going to space and back in a matter of seconds and yet I’m complaining it’s too slow…
This miracle of technology also has a searchable map of the entire world and can give me detailed directions to any place I might want to go, with different time estimates depending on how I’m traveling. If you wanted directions somewhere ten years ago, you had to get out a physical map—can you imagine? My smartphone can give me the answer to pretty much any question I might have when I speak into it, because it has voice recognition (oh, and access to the Internet.) It has a high-quality camera built in, plus can play me any song I might want to download from the Internet—no big deal. But, you know, it’s not quite the latest version…
2. My car
Sometimes when I’m driving along the highway in my car I have this sudden shift of perspective, and I think: this is insane. Imagine if someone from a few hundred years ago were able to travel forward in time and see us: sitting in traffic jams screaming at each other, tearing our hair out over the extra half hour that has been added to our journey—our 50-mile journey that’s now going to take us an hour and 15 rather than 45 minutes. I imagine they’d suggest walking the same journey and then seeing how we felt about the delay.
I’m sitting in this small, comfortable vehicle, and by pressing my foot down on a pedal I can zoom along the highway—roads designed to get me easily where I want to go and built out of the pure countryside—and travel hundreds of miles in a matter of hours. And all while being protected from the (ahem, lovely) English countryside weather. I don’t really have any idea how this crazy contraption I’m sitting in works, but it makes my life so much better.
I often hear people complain about the connection on Skype, or their video not working properly, or something similar. Sometimes I do it myself; lately it’s apparently been impossible for both my audio and video to work simultaneously—as soon as I fix one, the other breaks down. “Argh, this is so annoying,” we say. And it is annoying. It’s incredibly annoying that we can’t just talk to someone on the other side of the world with a perfect audio and video connection, isn’t it? It’s almost as if the technology required to do this were complicated, or something.
I use Skype a lot, and I genuinely used to get pretty frustrated when it didn’t work properly—I mean, it ruins the conversation! But then I’d remember: I am video calling someone on the other side of the world, and it’s completely free. I can see their face and hear them talk on my computer screen even though they are thousands of miles away. I remember discovering MSN when I was 13 and thinking it was the best thing in the world ever—if you’d explained Skype to me then, I would have been completely awestruck. Now it’s just commonplace.
Sometimes when I’m having a bit of a “bleurgh” day—nothing really bad has happened, but I’m just a bit tired or unmotivated—I can totally turn things around with the right music. I’ll put my headphones in and listen to a song I love, and my mood starts to lift. Music can have an incredible effect on our emotions: It can make us happy or sad, it can motivate us, it can make us nostalgic for past times. And there are millions—maybe billions—of new songs at our fingertips at any given moment. That an entire industry exists to create sounds for us to enjoy, to improve our experience of the world, to give us our own personal soundtrack, is downright incredible.
Don’t even get me started on headphones. I put these small buds in and suddenly my music goes straight to my ears, without disturbing anyone else. I can listen to Taylor Swift or Disney soundtracks without worrying what other people think of me—now there’s something to be grateful for.
I remember a couple of times when I was young and we’d have village-wide power cuts if the weather got really bad. The upside of this was that school was cancelled. The downside was we’d have to spend time with our families playing board games by candlelight. The best thing about losing power, though, was that it made me realize how much I’d taken it for granted—how amazing it was to have artificial light turn on at your command. This feeling would never last more than a day or so, of course – I’d soon go back to wasting electricity by leaving lights on all around the house.
At this time of year in the UK, it starts to get dark around 4:30 p.m. Without artificial light, I wonder what we’d do—maybe we’d just sleep most of the time. I’d certainly be less happy. Most of the time I take it entirely for granted, but every now and then I remind myself of those evenings spent sitting at home by candlelight, and remind myself that being able to turn on a light whenever I want is incredible, not something I’m just entitled to.
It’s scary how quickly we adapt to new things and how easy it is to take good things for granted. Perspective is everything: to properly appreciate things, I think we have to really seriously imagine what our lives would be like—or used to be like—without them.