So, aside from my relatively recent discovery of the website WTF Happened In 1971, I might not have clearly articulated an answer to this. Obviously, we're more wealthy now, and that's not a small deal (although, not much more wealthy, as the charts on that page show). It's a bit tricky to sort out if we are better off, as we now are constantly tempted by strange monkey's paws that absorb our attention and breed anger, fear, and distrust – and that's just smartphones.

But sometimes I think about this tweet, from an author I enjoy:

I've referenced this so many times in person it deserves it's own specific treatment.

Little did the Wachowskis know, the bull run of the 90's tech bubble was about to burst, and the main character, a competent computer programmer, would likely not have his profession portrayed positively on its merits in mainstream American cinema again until Furious 7. Certainly, for a character like that, 1999-as-peak is a plausible choice, and looking for high-status programmers sort of makes sense if you see them as so vital to the civilization that once computers can program it's no longer even a human civilization to you (as Smith expresses).

Of course, the obvious point to make about the claim in dialogue that 1999 is the peak of human civilization is that we aren't meant to agree with that character. Obviously he's fixated on the creation of his species, and the godlike power developed by those who did it in the story. And he generally hates humans. But in our actual world, what would we look for, if we wanted to see a more advanced civilization? What's the actual metric?

And I'm starting to think that it's wisdom. I don't think we were wiser back then – or rather, I think we hadn't seen enough challenges to develop the wisdom we would need. I think our best days are ahead of us, and possibly right before our destruction, because there's no reason to think our wisdom will be enough for the weapons we've been making. But we ought to take the time and develop wisdom, figure out how to work together better, and how to set our sails towards a better future. If it's all about litigating past troubles, we won't be able to do anything in the choppy seas ahead.