What's changed in 11 years of this American life?
August 26, 2009 9:31 AM   Subscribe

Time Travel Filter: I grew up in the USA but have been away since 1998. What have I missed?

Remember when America's biggest presidential headache was a certain White House intern's blue Gap dress? I left the US that year for university abroad. For complicated reasons I won't go into here, I have remained outside the US ever since, and have been back only two or three times for short (less than a week) visits.

Cast your mind back to 1998. How has everyday life in the US changed? Assume I know broadly about the major changes (the rise of the TSA and gas prices) and those that have affected other countries too (recession, LOLspeak). How much does it cost to send a letter? Do grocery stores still ask "paper or plastic"? How's life in the workplace? What menaces threaten our children? And someone on MeFi mentioned that free refills are no longer standard in restaurants. Dear God, America, say it ain't so.
posted by stuck on an island to Society & Culture (41 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
Grocery stores still ask "paper or plastic," but many offer discounts for bringing your own reusable bags.

Giant SUVs got really popular and then stopped being popular because gas went up to $4 a gallon last summer, plus they aren't what the cool kids drive now.

SmartCars are legal now.
posted by oinopaponton at 9:37 AM on August 26, 2009

Grocery stores still ask "paper or plastic," but many offer discounts for bringing your own reusable bags.

Plastic is now banned in San Francisco. So, you wont get asked that question there.

Thats one example of what makes this question so broad. Did you have a particular region/city in mind? America is a big place and different places have gone in different directions.
posted by vacapinta at 9:40 AM on August 26, 2009

Speaking of grocery stores, depending of where you've been for 21 years, you may need to get used to self checkout machines. Also, depending on what part of the US you're returning to, you might also want to start bringing your own reusable grocery bags.
posted by mhum at 9:41 AM on August 26, 2009

Sending a letter costs 42 cents. But you can now get "forever" stamps, which stay good forever. You pay the current price (e.g. 42 cents per stamp if you buy them now) and don't need to worry if the price goes up in the future.

Many grocery stores still ask "paper or plastic." Some assume plastic unless you ask for paper. A few, including Whole Foods, only use paper.

Free refills are still standard in restaurants.

Many states (for instance, NY and Calif.) now have laws against smoking in almost all public places, including restaurants and bars.
posted by Jaltcoh at 9:43 AM on August 26, 2009

*almost all enclosed public places
posted by Jaltcoh at 9:43 AM on August 26, 2009

Brittany Spears' rise and fall.

The Yankees only won three World Championships since you left. Hopefully it will be four in October.
posted by Zambrano at 9:45 AM on August 26, 2009

Free refills are standard in many of the restaurants I go to. And now fast food places moved the fountains to your side of the counter. You fix your own drink and can get all the refills you want. (I think some of them did this before 1998, but it wasn't as prevalent.)

I judge restaurants by the amount of diet coke they will give me.
posted by artychoke at 9:46 AM on August 26, 2009

Incorrect - sending a letter costs 44 cents.
posted by thejoshu at 9:52 AM on August 26, 2009

Here's a funny take on the past decade or so:

The following things have been accomplished between Duke Nukem Forever's announcement on April 28th, 1997 and its death on May 6th, 2009 (scroll down for the list)

Duke Nukem Forever was a sequel in a popular series of computer games. It went through something like 3 different versions over 11 years before finally dying for good a few months ago. Once you run out of important things to catch up on, reading up on its development should be good for a laugh.
posted by martens at 10:00 AM on August 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

Did you hear about the war? And that thing in New York?
posted by GuyZero at 10:00 AM on August 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

Not sure how much is the same as out of the country: I rarely leave the US - so ---

Depends on where you're at, but metal detectors at the entrances of a lot of public places may be new for you; I don't remember as many in 1998. Be prepared to empty your pockets to renew your driver's license.

Plastic is everything: "Pay at the Pump" may be a newish revelation; it is nearly everywhere now, but when I remember the 90s, it was maybe 50/50. In general cash is a non-necessity, and it seems to me in the 90s stores had 'minimum $5 credit card transactions' when now you can buy a $0.50 pack of gum and put it on a debit card; see above, on the self-checkout lines. Instant online bank account transaction info helps track all these card purchases. Many places don't even require a signature for small purchases, under $15 or $25; they swipe your card and you get a reciept. Convenience stores, malls, grocery stores, movie theatres, hotels, etc., generally have an ATM inside, so getting cash is far easier now if you do need it, but expect to spend $3 ($2 to the ATM, one to your own bank) to get the cash out.

Don't worry about the postage stamp: nearly all your bills can be paid over the phone or online. Email is the preferred form of written communication.

Shopping at gigantic all-in-one "super" stores, like SuperWalmart or SuperTarget is more common - be prepared to buy jeans and an oil filter and your groceries at the same place, after a lot of walking.

In the workplace: internet access from your desk is commonplace, whether its relevant to your work or not - many people waste time on it, but it doesn't reflect well on you if you're caught doing it. Company policies address internet use and celphone use at your desk.
posted by AzraelBrown at 10:14 AM on August 26, 2009

Differences I've seen in my social group (midwest, middle class, 25-45): Almost everyone has a cell phone now. Almost no one has a pager. Almost everyone has an mp3 player. Almost no one has a portable CD player. Almost everyone has a laptop. Almost everyone is on some social networking site.
posted by desjardins at 10:46 AM on August 26, 2009

I think mainly, there's just way more starbuckses.
posted by jeb at 11:00 AM on August 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

Depends on exactly where you are from, but in my experience people are on average older and fatter than when I left about 15 years ago.
posted by Meatbomb at 11:13 AM on August 26, 2009

The rise of the iPod and all things Apple, for sure.

You're required to pay for your gas before pumping, regardless of whether you're paying inside or outside.

ATMs only give out bills in multiples of $20 now. I remember being able to take out only $10, which is all I ever need.

And maybe this is just my area, but office buildings seem to be locked down much tighter than they used to be. I used to have to just wave my ID in the general direction of the reception desk when entering a building, but now I can't even move between floors without having to tap my badge on multiple security doors (some of which have graduated to using fingerprint technology).
posted by anderjen at 11:34 AM on August 26, 2009

Again, this would depend on your recent location & your future-American plans, but everybody constantly texts & checks their BlackBerry/iPhone/etc. It's nothing personal against you, they just assume that their electronic comunications are very important. People take pictures of everything with any device they have that's capable.

IANAP, but I think parents are worried about their kid developing slowly or with autism spectrum disorders, playground safety, swine flu, and germs to a point that I've never seen before. Expect lots of gel/alcohol hand sanitizers, often just referred to as "Purell". People have been all agog about organic and natural products, but especially for their kids. The prices of these items are often too high to justify their assumed worth. YMMV.
posted by knile at 11:41 AM on August 26, 2009

The most important American changes from 1998 to 2008? Along with the impact of the Gulf War, it was that the cost of housing and health care started at high levels and then became ridiculously, untenably expensive, the cost of food and electronics became extremely cheap, with only recent changes to that formula with the recession. While gas got very expensive for a time, on average, it's continued to be cheap compared with almost everywhere else, and the costs of transportation haven't risen much. Given those generic trends, here's what happened:

You're probably already aware of the political changes that took place. 9/11 and the anthrax attacks haunted the country for several years, but it was the continual exploitations of our military and the Reserves for the unrelated war in Iraq that affected more people in the country. Sons and daughters were sent back again and again, mission after mission. While many Americans originally approached the war with patriotism and pride, and many truly believed that Saddam Hussein was in some way behind the 9/11 attacks or at least a threat to the US with weapons of mass destruction, that pride began to very seriously evaporate with the increasing death toll of American soldiers and the definitive reports that Hussein did not have any weapons of mass destruction at all. The country moved from patriotic swelling -- flags on every window and car and window with nearly unconditional support of George W. Bush -- to a feeling of nightmarish disillusionment as even the conservatives began to realize that the war in Iraq had a real cost in human American lives without tangible gain for the country. With all of the talk of the recession, it is difficult to describe how much concern Americans had over issues in the Middle East, whether it was fear over the terrorist attacks of 2001, supporting the troops with yellow ribbons in 2004, or the concern over the body counts and policies of torture as the war went on -- and continues to.

The election of Barack Obama was obviously seen as a sea change away from those types of policies over time, and one of the most important moments in American history. There's a reason that Obama campaigned on the strength of hope, it's because of the mass disillusionment in the government that has been widespread.

In the aughts, the airwaves and Internet were full of ads for lending. Because of the high prices of real estate, taking out a high-value "jumbo" loan to purchase a home or borrowing against the value of your home became an expected part of everyday life, even for those with bad credit. Advertisements for lending firms were everywhere, and credit cards were easily available. Everyone was expected to buy a house at ridiculously high prices, and people could borrow so much money that the size of new homes being built became very large -- McMansions, as they were called.

Because of the low costs of food and electronics, the easy availability of borrowed money and the stable prices for cars and transportation (and cheap gas for most of that period), oversizing things became a cultural phenomenon in general. The most distinctive car on the American highway was the Hummer H2. The most successful new restaurant was The Cheesecake Factory, which specializes in oversize interiors, a broad menu and gigantic portions. Walmart, Target and IKEA -- the huge box stores -- thrived, while smaller retailers shuttered their doors.

Because of the lack of lending due to the housing bubble bursting, those oversized homes, cars and restaurant portions are now starting to become gauche. Other casualties of the recession: The Sharper Image, Circuit City, Linens n Things. The ever-present SUVs on the highway are giving way to smaller cars like the Prius, the Yaris and the Honda Fit.

Still, free refills are still the defacto standard for sodas and teas. I haven't seen any change with that, and fast food doesn't seem to have changed much since the 90s. But the poster may have been referring to chain coffee stores which sell expensive, no-refill coffee drinks. While coffee shops were certainly popular in the late 90s, Starbucks has grown to a point of ridiculous saturation that they're only just now backing off on. If Walgreens was the retail weed of the 90s, Starbucks was certainly that of the aughts.

As it may well be the case where you are, 3G wireless connectivity is now ubiquitous, and smartphones and laptops are everywhere -- in cars, movie theaters, on the street, and all those Starbucks mentioned above. Movie theaters ask guests to not only silence their cell phones, but also not text during the movies.

The difference in smoking in many places is a huge change. When you go out to a club, you no longer come back smelling like a cigar. It was truly a strange experience a few years back visiting Chicago from the west coast and seeing that people were still smoking in restaurants, but that appears to be gone there now too. Smoking is far less common than it was in the 90s.

You no longer buy movies and music in stores in your town -- you buy them from iTunes, Amazon or Netflix. Even the awesome indie video and music stores are shuttering their doors. Blockbusters and Hollywood Videos are fewer and farther between.

As for stamps, when you pay bills, you pay bills online, so you really don't need stamps much anymore. American banks will send off checks via their online bill pay systems at no cost from your checking account, even to personal recipients. People are generally expected to file their taxes online, with the government sponsoring free online tax preparation services for those under a certain yearly income. Tollbooths had electronic payment sensors installed and "electronic payment only" lanes established. With the wide acceptance of credit or debit cards and online bill pay services, it's now possible to go a month without using any cash or checks at all.

Airlines now often charge for checking bags, and rarely serve free meals on domestic flights. Checking in online or at a kiosk in the airport is now expected, and interaction with booking agents is generally minimal. There are, as you know, long lines for security screening, and everyone has to take off their shoes.

Methamphetamine moved in as the stereotypical "evil drug," having taken the reins from crack cocaine. In many places, you can't buy a box of Sudafed without giving your license and information due to concerns over methamphetamine production. If anti-depressant use was a big concern in the 90s, the big concern in the aughts was painkiller use, with widespread concern about oxycontin and vicodin being used as recreational drugs. Similar concerns emerged about the growing prescription of Ritalin and other amphetamines for attention deficit and hyperactivity disorders in children. Marijuana, on the other hand, appears to have moved in the public eye from a serious drug concern to something to joke about; marijuana use, for both medicinal purposes and not, is presented as a generally positive thing in mass culture.

American has fewer people describing themselves as being Christian, and more people describe themselves as not subscribing to a particular faith. Many people expect religious diversity to increase, and institutionalized religion to play less of a role in public affairs.

I could go on, but I've already written too much. This is all IMO, of course.
posted by I EAT TAPAS at 11:46 AM on August 26, 2009 [9 favorites]

A significant number of teenagers have ADD and eat Adderall like candy. Few teens spends hours talking on the phone anymore; instead, they spend all of their time texting on their cell phones, no matter where they are or who is talking to them. Along with more ADD, there are a lot more autistic kids, and a lot more kids with serious food allergies. Restaurants that offer peanuts in open containers are plastered with warning signs. Don't ever offer a child a cookie, a brownie, or so much as a sandwich if their Mom isn't around. The kid is probably deathly allergic to nuts or wheat or somesuch and could collapse in anaphylactic shock.

In a similar vein, there are now many more people interested in local/organic food, eating vegetarian/vegan, or trying other restricted diets like raw food or gluten-free. More and more people I know -- including folks who are neither urban nor affluent/professional -- are raising their own organic gardens; some of them are also raising their own chickens.

There's a whole new breed of "fast-food" restaurant now, exemplified by Chipotle and Panera Bread. Nicer than McDonald's, but not a sit-down place either. You order at a counter, pick up your food when it's ready, and get your own drink -- with as many refills as you want.

And nobody goes to the video store anymore, especially Blockbuster.
posted by junkbox at 11:49 AM on August 26, 2009

- Pretty much everyone has a cell phone and talks or texts on it incessantly
- A lot of cafes and bookstores and libraries have free WiFi, if you carry a laptop around with you
- Cable TV offers like ten billion channels, a lot of which are streaming movies, but as when there were only 50 or 100 channels, it's almost all shit except for a few great limited series on a handful of channels.
- I'll assume you know about the dark post-9/11 Bush years when it was not shameful to be publicly prejudiced against non-Americans and vocally supportive of torturing suspects; the media organ for the values of the Bush administration is Fox News; related to this you may be required to sing God Bless America at a baseball game during the 7th inning stretch (or at least pretend you're not bored or offended by it)
- Relatedly, there's a renewed crazy scary reactionary political backlash surging up in the last six months, probably as a 1-2 punch result of the election of a black president and the economic downturn; seriously, there will be some people you never thought were crazy who will say some crazy shit things to you, seemingly without shame;
- the states get stereotyped as "red" or "blue" depending on whether they tend to vote Republican or Democratic in elections (obviously, most states are really some shade of purple, but that doesn't make as dramatic a news story on CNN or Fox)
- if you live in a blue state, smoking is probably illegal in most public places now, but you'll also notice huge numbers of people smoking in their cars (in addition to talking or texting -- probably illegally -- on their cell phones
- most independent bookstores have gone out of business, or shifted their priorities to fulfilling internet orders over maintaining a great shelf stock
- if you know NYC, you'll be shocked to see Times Square "cleaned up" into an odd sort of psuedo-antiseptic Disney parody of its former self
- while you were gone, nearly everyone in suburbia bought a big stupid SUV, though many of them now regret it or have downsized back to a more reasonable car
- security procedures makes flying by plane a big pain in the ass, particularly if by some database glitch your name gets mistaken for a name on a watch list; also, you'll probably have to pay to check a bag
- New Orleans was largely destroyed (not the French Quarter, but a lot of the city where people lived) and only half-heartedly rebuilt
- improbably, bad actor Arnold Schwartznegger was elected governor of California
- fancy coffee and pseudo-gourmet foods (and prepared foods in supermarkets) are a lot more prevalent than they were 15 years ago
- car tech: many people have talking GPS units in their cars, DVD players with little TV screens to entertain their children, car stereos that are MP3 and iPod compatible; cruise control, more sophisticated air bags, and anti-lock brakes are pretty much standard now
- both local roads and interstate highways are generally in somewhat crappier shape
- a lot of young men wear pants that sag down to show the waistband of their underwear and a lot of young women wear short tops that show their midriffs (year round)
- multiple piercings (lip, eyebrow, nose) and visible tattoos are a lot more common than they used to be
posted by aught at 11:51 AM on August 26, 2009

I left The United States in May, 1997, and have been back for at most fifteen days total since then, and never for longer than four days in a row.

Most folks living in America can't be objective about their country as they're immersed in the culture; there aren't mirrors that a nation can look into that would reveal it's own imperfections. These are, of course, only my subjective views but I lived in America for about two thirds of my adult life. I apologise if I offend anyone, but I am answering the question as best I can and from my perspective as long term, American born ex-pat.

The nation has moved to the right, across the board. In some areas very far right and other areas not so far right, but I'm hard pressed to think of more than a few examples of the nation (as a whole) moving to the left. So a big step to the right.

The country has gotten far more paranoid; things like asking citizens of NATO member countries to get visas is over the top. We trust them well enough to go to war with them, to fight alongside of them, and yet if they'd like to see the statue of liberty they're subjected to finger printing, photographing and the collection of personal data.

The country has gotten far more selfish; it wasn't perfect when I left but it seems the focus has moved away from the concept of "common good" to "what's good for me".

The country has become much, much more aligned with corporate interests. America used to control corporations; now these same entities almost openly run the country and nobody seems to notice. These companies loot the public purse for their own interests and generally act like predatory creatures instead of entities who, as members of civil society, are forced by the government to act for the greater good.

The nation has become very, very arrogant and lost sight of it's place in the world community. A remarkably large number of Americans seem to think The United States is in a position to dictate what's right for the world, and the American people aren't afraid to empower their leaders to straighten things out, especially so if the solution panders to America selfishness or paranoia.

Freedom has always been illusory in America, gossamer like, dancing just out of reach. Freedom was always more an ideal to strive for than an absolute in America. You couldn't touch freedom in America but we knew it when we saw it. And every day everyone in the nation I left acted in ways great and small to render this concept far, far more tangible and visible to Americans and the rest of the world alike.

The America you left was the shining city on the hill, the example to the rest of the world.

The America you're returning to is still an example to the rest of the world.

But I can't say what it is an example of.
posted by Mutant at 12:07 PM on August 26, 2009 [5 favorites]

Wow, keep 'em coming, guys.

Meth? Really?? Isn't that for Amish kids and gutter punks?
posted by stuck on an island at 12:37 PM on August 26, 2009

Incorrect - sending a letter costs 44 cents.

Yes, thanks for the correction.

Incidentally, the "Gulf War" happened before the timeframe being asked about (1991). The "Iraq War" started in 2003 and isn't properly called the "Gulf War" (but I'm sure the OP knows about the Iraq War anyway).
posted by Jaltcoh at 12:40 PM on August 26, 2009

California, Hawaii, New Mexico, and Texas are now majority-minority, as are 10% of US counties, part of the United States' demographic transition to being a majority-minority by around 2042.
posted by kirkaracha at 1:34 PM on August 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

Every popular song on the radio uses autotune in the most offensive way.
posted by greta simone at 2:19 PM on August 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

DSL / Cable Internet is cheap now. Maybe not compared to other countries, but certainly compared to 1998. Also you can get unlimited land-line long distance for $20 or so. Cable itself is more expensive than ever. The whole HDTV transition was delayed but finally happened. There was a program to get a converter. You missed it. All new TVs are flat screens. Nearly all the major primetime shows now broadcast in HD. There's HD Radio, but no one has it except in their new car. HD-DVD lost. Wii's were impossible to get for two Xmas's in a row, but now they aren't.

if you know NYC, you'll be shocked to see Times Square "cleaned up" into an odd sort of psuedo-antiseptic Disney parody of its former self

"Beauty and the Beast" actually opened on Broadway in 1994 — 15 years ago. Hard to believe.

Brittany Spears' rise and fall.

And back to "rise" at the moment.
posted by smackfu at 2:41 PM on August 26, 2009

Meth is a big problem. I knew people in school who used it as a party drug. People from every walk of life use it, since its cheap and lots of it.

For certain over the counter allergy and cold medicines, I have to pick out the product card and take it to the pharmacist. Then they hunt the medicine down. They scan my license and I sign a register, then I can get my damn allergy pills. Thank you meth.
posted by shinyshiny at 3:35 PM on August 26, 2009

Two related things:

First, recently (say in the last three years) the State Department and Customs and Border Patrol changed the requirements for Americans to re-enter the US, with passports become more and more necessary over time. So more and more Americans have passports.

With this comes another big change for many younger Americans - the possibility to work abroad, which they may have never considered before.

I'm an expat in my mid-20s too, and though it's probably related to the economic crisis, I'm asked a lot more now what it's like to live abroad than I was after my first trip home. The Internet has made it far easier for people to just up and move - or find jobs in new countries overall.

I keep meeting more and more Americans working in jobs like English teaching abroad, especially those based in places like Asia where Europeans don't have a paperwork-based advantage, than I ever imagined I would. Everywhere I've lived since I left the States, and I've lived in some rather obscure places, has had at least a few under-30 Americans tooling around doing something long-term, either interning, volunteering, or working permanently.

I'm not talking middle-of-the-jungle here, but small/mid-sized cities in Europe and Asia sort of on a very windy, distant branch of the American tourist trail, where previously I'd only expect to see, say, New Zealanders or Australians (those people get around!).

My friends at home are definitely more curious about how I've carved out a life abroad, what it's like over here, and what they'd be giving up or getting out of the deal should they go down the same road. It's more and more normal to pop onto Facebook and see X's photos from Costa Rica or Spain rather than the Grand Canyon or Manhattan. It's actually a better deal for some of them.

Going down a mental list of friends, I know a guy who couldn't find even temp work in California now working in Dubai and making five times what he'd make at home doing the same job, had he even found a full-time position. Five or six friends have taught English in high-paying positions in Japan and Korea, wiping out their student debt with savings after a few years. Other friends have installed radio-tower wireless internet hookups in Nigeria, worked on women's literacy initiatives in Nepal, opened health clinics in Guatemala. Previously, perhaps these people might have stayed in the States to get job experience before going into something like fundraising for local NGOs, or community health care, or local schools. Instead - "local" is becoming rather meaningless when you're tutoring a private student half a world away. Here's an article about young people still in college, or recent grads, going straight from finals to internships and well-paid jobs in China.

While it's not a universal thing by any means, but the expat life-as-golden goose trend that I imagine will keep growing as time goes on and as the job market becomes more global and as long as the job market at home is so tight.

If it keeps up, I'd venture to say it's one of the biggest economic changes our generation will see later as a break with previous ones: that you don't have to stay in the US to find a good job, build your resume, or raise a family.
posted by mdonley at 4:12 PM on August 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

Meth? Really?? Isn't that for Amish kids and gutter punks?
posted by stuck on an island at 12:37 PM on August 26

Depends on where in the US, but in some places yeah, it's become a serious problem. My midwest county had more meth busts in a single year than the rest of the state put together, so this may not be representative of the rest of the nation, but speakers would come to school on a monthly basis, reports would be all over the evening news, and eventually the sale of pseudoephedrine-based cold medicines (an ingredient in meth-making) was banned outright. That shit was everywhere. Never tried it myself, but apparently it made you feel fucking awesome the first few times you used it, and in the midwest feeling fucking awesome is a rare feeling indeed.

The things you're asking really need to be asked via conversation, I'm afraid a bunch of anonymous strangers on the internet may have a little difficulty covering every single thing that has transpired since '97.
posted by Ndwright at 4:36 PM on August 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

I am given plastic bags at grocery stores in Chicago automatically. Up until about a year ago I would get really weird looks when I asked them to use a canvas bag or my backpack. Now if I bring a big hiking backpack in to fill up the baggers hardly bat an eye. Stores like Whole Foods and Trader Joe's are more forward in the reusable bag issue and its only been recently that you don't get looked at strangely for bringing your own bag at major chain groceries or mom and pop stores. I've seen in the last 12-6 months that places like Walmart even sell reusable bags near the checkout.

More and more people shop at supercenters for their groceries. Yes, you can get your fruit and veg at Target now.

This is probably regional but some people don't have to go into the DMV to renew their license. They can order it by mail or online and get a new sticker to put on their current license.

People don't seem to want to make concrete plans anymore since its so "easy" to make plans on the fly by text, mobile or via social networking like Facebook or Twitter.

McDonalds now sells fancy coffee drinks in an effort to compete with Starbucks.

Fewer and fewer people watch commercials on TV because of DVRs or watching online.

First run movies at a theater are mow more than $10 in major cities. A small popcorn can be more than $4.

I wouldn't say the whole nation has moved to the right but I would say that there is a deepening divide between the right and left. And yes, the left in America is practically the right in Europe.

People sometimes buy parking spaces in major cities for more than $30,000 a space. A lot of new condos are currently being rented because they can't sell.

There's been an uptick in commuting by bike within cities.
posted by Bunglegirl at 4:49 PM on August 26, 2009

Newspapers are dying. TV, websites, and blogs are where most people prefer to get their news. Many papers are feeling the pinch and attempting to branch out by expanding their websites.

Craigslist has pretty much replaced newspaper classifieds too, or at least it has in my generation (Gen Y).

Some restaurants (mostly national pizza chains) offer online ordering for delivery now. Also, a lot of fast food places are keeping their drive-throughs open for late-night service, often until midnight, 1, or 2 AM. "Dollar menus" are also popular.

Homosexuality has made huge gains in mainstream culture. The days of everyone freaking out over Ellen DeGeneres coming out of the closet are long gone. Depending on where you live, almost no one bats an eye at a gay character/storyline in a TV show or film. The gay rights movement has been making consistent, if slow progress, with the younger generation much more at ease with homosexuality than their parents or grandparents.

They show commercials in movie theaters now, usually before the previews. A lot of movie theaters use digital projectors so the picture is much sharper.

Nobody writes checks anymore unless it's for a really large purchase or to pay a bill.

Energy drinks became really popular.

Some roadside billboards are huge digital screens now, that play ads and stuff.

That whole Beanie Baby thing? Yeah, false alarm, you can find them at garage sales for under a dollar.

Everyone went around wearing Crocs and then suddenly we stopped. Don't know what that was about.

They keep trying to get us to use the dollar coins, but it's not catching on.

They keep trying to get us to use CFL light bulbs, and that is catching on.

Vegetarianism/veganism and environmentalism have become much more mainstream.

There are some really good TV shows out there these days, but reality television continues to plague our culture and shows no signs of going away. Game shows are still pretty popular (Deal or No Deal) and talent contests like American Idol and America's Got Talent are going strong, though American Idol's popularity is slipping.
posted by castlebravo at 4:58 PM on August 26, 2009

Waiters aren't so apt to bring you water automatically.
Selling reusable bags made from recycled materials for $1.99 -$2.99 is popular in grocery stores.
We still hate Walmart and yet we still shop there.
Cigarette smoking prohibitions are in wide effect. In some cities you can't even smoke outside.
More companies allow domestic partnership insurance plans for lesbian and gay couples.
There are more songs on the radio that outright describe sexual activity in their lyrics.
Michael Jackson is DEAD!!!
Reality shows are huge on local and cable TV, and are largely derivative of one another.
More people have cell phones and NO land line at all.
Television is digital across the country now. No more rabbit-ears.
Home vegetable gardening is popular again thanks to the recession and "green" concerns.
Oh, yeah- the word "green" has been used so much it's basically meaningless now.
Community colleges have more students now because of the wave of layoffs.
More Japanese shows are being adapted to US TV.
posted by Piscean at 7:01 PM on August 26, 2009

Since you specifically asked about soft drinks - many chains around here (Applebee's, TGI Friday's, Red Robin, Denny's) are starting to offer certain mixed non-alcoholic soft drinks, which usually consist of Sprite/Sierra Mist mixed with lemonade and/or with flavor shots added in. In my experience, those are the soft drinks that tend not to be free refills.
posted by IndigoRain at 9:25 PM on August 26, 2009

Take it away, Billy: "Oh ho ho oh ho hooo Desert Storm, trucker hats, Paris Hilton, Nickelback, housing boom, cyber war, self-check at the grocery store..."

I'm sure many things below happened wherever you are, but here's what I can think of for now:

AOL peaked and declined. You don't hear anyone talk about them anymore except on stock market shows. And you don't get their CDs in the mail anymore.

Personal laptops in the classroom.

Getting something via fax instead of email is an inconvenience.

Mom texts you. Grandma friends you.

Your young daughter takes pictures of her genitalia with her phone and emails them to her crush, who shares them around.

The number of homeschooled students has doubled.

The rise and dominance of the satirical/fake news of The Daily Show and the Colbert Report over actual news programs.

The rise and dominance of Fox News as a home base, rallying point, and thought leader for right wingers and unsuspecting yokels.

CNN tacking to the right to compete with Fox News. MSNBC tacking to the left, I guess to capitalize on the national swing that way at the ballot box.

Premium cable channels such as HBO and Showtime started making the best shows, such as the Sopranos, Rome, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Six Feet Under, Weeds, etc.

Many people get cable tv, phone, and internet from the same provider.

Guys' square-toed shoes have been beaten almost all the way back down, at least in stores.

Low-rise jeans and muffin tops.

Hipsters. Trying hard to pillory style and conformity with irony and deliberate awfulness... in order to be like all the other people doing that.

Emos. Some kind of hybrid of hipster and goth.

Mountain Man beards and 70s porno mustaches on young guys

The mesh-back, foam-front baseball caps you wore in the 70s and early 80s came back as an ironic joke, but somehow became an actual popular style, and then died again, I guess except in places where they had never died in the first place.

Starting with the popular women's lower back tattoos of the late 90s, tattoos have now become so much more prevalent and normal amongst people you formerly wouldn't have filed under "tattoo person".

A growing marketing push for facial products for men.

Botox-paralyzed celebrity foreheads.

80s hair and synth came back.

Lance Armstrong's Livestrong yellow bracelets went viral in 2004 and then every cause had a different colored bracelet for a while. Same with magnets in the shape of issue awareness ribbons for the backside of your car.

Everything's chipotle flavored.

Major candy bars now come in King Size.

Cupcakes and doughnuts have been given the gourmet treatment.

Local is the new organic.

The upscale/natural/specialty segment in the grocery store industry went largely national by way of chains like Whole Foods, Wild Oats, and Trader Joe's.

During the dot com boom, several companies were doing online grocery shopping and delivery, which was great. Fewer now.

The convenience store has a whole drink case of just energy drinks.

Rachel Ray rose to prominence as the Oprah of TV chefs.

Fast food restaurants tried to appear to be offering healthy choices in response to bad press, while simultaneously introducing increasingly ridiculous monster burgers.

Every second burger is "Angus" now. We forget it's Angus a few seconds after we order it and then forget to check whether we notice any difference.

Can't remember when this started, but gourmet burrito restaurants feel like they've been everywhere for a while now.

Transfats unseated cholesterol to become the Bad Thing of the decade.

Coke with Lemon, Coke Vanilla, Coke with Lime, Coke Zero, Coke Blak.

The mojito enjoyed a substantial run as the trendy drink.

The Pinots surged in popularity.

Thanks in large part to rappers popularizing cognac in their lyrics, the USA is now the #1 market for cognac. In 2003 Hennessy estimated that young black people bought 60 to 85% of its products in the USA. Cognac marketing is now targeted primarily at young black people of both genders, a shift from the former target of the wealthy white male.

Coors merged with Miller.

IBM stopped making personal computers.

Kia and Scion have become visible in the entry-level auto market.

Depression-era financial market regulations put in place to prevent another crash were repealed in 1999 and an arcane investment instrument free-for-all was declared in 2000. Oops.

Protest has been largely tamed by such tactics as massive anticipatory riot squad presence and the use of "free speech zones." (And tired 1960s chants if you ask me. Hey hey, ho ho, this chant format has got to go.)

Gay marriage is legal in six states with several more allowing civil unions or domestic partnerships.

Gayness seems a lot more integrated and unremarkable in popular culture and in everyday life (the latter at least in more urbanized areas)

The Episcopal Church is schism-ing over the ordination of gay and lesbian priests.

Steroid scandals in baseball flared up and then people just seem to have gotten tired of the issue.

The Arizona Diamondbacks became an expansion Major League baseball team the year you left and won the World Series in 2001.

The Montreal Expos became the Washington (DC) Nationals

Since 1998, college football has been ranked according to the Bowl Championship Series system, which determines who plays for the national championship.

Houston, having lost the Oilers to Tennessee years earlier in the NFL, got an expansion franchise - the Texans.

The Cleveland Browns got "reactivated" as a team several years after the owner moved all but the name and franchise history to Baltimore to become the Ravens.

The Broncos won the Superbowl twice, the Patriots three times, and the Steelers twice.

Some of the biggest names in the NBA have been Shaquille O'Neal, Kobe Bryant, and LeBron James.

Major League Soccer got a boost from the '02 World Cup and started making international trades. The average sports fan still isn't interested though. Only the Beckham deal got them any press. Internet chatter says that only a few teams are profitable and the league overall is still losing money. They've kept it going for a good while now though.

What was once known as cage fighting or no holds barred fighting or toughman competitions has cleaned up its act, become regulated, and has coalesced into what's now formally called mixed martial arts or MMA. UFC is the big player. It has overtaken boxing in popularity in some demographics and is getting huge now. Major national sponsors, celebrity fans, etc. It's on cable tv several nights per week, including a reality series. UFC PPVs outsell pro wrestling PPVs and have almost surpassed the record-holding Tyson-Holyfield boxing PPVs.

Pilates has been the most buzzworthy fitness trend.

We didn't start the fire. Honestly, we just got here, officer.
posted by Askr at 10:48 PM on August 26, 2009 [4 favorites]

I always thought that if someone had been in a coma for the past decade or so, the three things they'd be most surprised to find out would be the 9/11 attacks (obviously), along with the Red Sox winning the World Series in '04 (after being down 0-3 to the Yankees in the ALCS), and Arnold Schwarzenegger becoming governor of California in '03. I guess along with that, Obama's election and Michael Jackson's death would be up there also. But I'm sure you know about all these.

The '03 baseball season was amazing in that the Red Sox and Cubs both made it to their respective league championships, and lost in spectacular fashion.

If pro and college football weren't far and away the most popular sports in the US when you left, they are now... It's a year-round thing, basically. Their players are still highly prone to legal trouble, however.

Thanks to the otherwise great Dan Patrick and Keith Olbermann (who have both since left), Sportscenter is now mainly a venue for sports anchors to make wisecracks and create catch phrases for each other's entertainment.

You can't watch a sporting event on TV with your parents or kids without being subjected to incredibly awkward ads for erectile-dysfunction or "male enhancement" drugs, even in the afternoon. AFAIK, condom ads are still restricted to late night, but I could be wrong.

Things that might have been considered racy TV and restricted to late night may now very well be airing on cable on a weekend afternoon.

Hard-drive-based digital recording units and free (legal) web streaming have changed TV viewing big-time, as have DVD boxed sets of TV shows.

Despite Columbine and 9/11, horror movies are more plentiful and graphic than ever.

Many niche cable channels are increasingly shifting away from focusing on niche programming. Cartoon Network doesn't just show cartoons, AMC rarely shows anything made before the 80s, Sci-Fi Channel (now SyFy) has a wrestling show. Televised poker became huge in the mid-2000s, but has tailed off lately. MTV is even crappier than before. "Reality TV" is all over the place, including TLC, Bravo, and TV Land.

Drink refills vary. Most fast food places still don't care, but some might limit one per visit, or charge a small amount.

And right now, the most popular cliches among talking heads and athletes/coaches are "Going forward," "At the end of the day," "It is what it is," and "He threw him under the bus."
posted by TheSecretDecoderRing at 11:35 PM on August 26, 2009

"At the end of the day,"

That's really interesting TheSecretDecorderRing. When I moved to England 3 years ago it really struck me how often people say this here. They LOVE that phrase! I wonder if it's migrated to the states partly because of the globalization modonely mentioned.
posted by like_neon at 3:46 AM on August 27, 2009

Oh and to be a productive member of this thread, here is what I remember of California before I left:

- So You Think You Can Dance was huge. HUGE! And so was Project Runway... Which was on Bravo and now it's on Lifetime and for some reason that was a Big Deal. Oh and America's Next Top Model but I think that's fading now? Reality Shows in general were a pretty big deal for a while.

- Which reminds me, Tyra Banks has her own talk show. From what I can tell, it's like Sally Jesse with a lot more finger snapping.

- Rachel Ray was everywhere and people loved her or hated her for her catchphrase "Yum-O". From comments above I guess she's still going strong. Generally speaking, we saw the rise of the Celebri-Chef (Alton Brown, Anthony Bordaine, Gorden Ramsey) and food-tainment (30 minute meals, Iron Chef, Kitchen Nightmares, Hell's Kitchen)

- The rise of knitting (I hate the phrase "knitting is the new yoga" but it describes what it went through)

- "Everything's chipotle flavored." That's so funny because it's true!

- I dunno about now but I remember that Jet Blue was the cool new Southwest airlines. They gave you biscotti as a snack!

- So it used to be all about Jamba Juice but by now you have probably already run into Pinkberry? My god. It's everywhere.
posted by like_neon at 3:56 AM on August 27, 2009

Here's a pop-culture slant:

- People who have been constantly on gossip sites for the last 10 years: Madonna, Jessica Simpson, Britney Spears, Lindsay Lohan, Paris Hilton, Gisele, All the spawns from Laguna Beach.

- Super couples who were constantly in the news the last 10 years: Brad & Angelina, Tom and Kate (and adorable Suri)

- Newcomers: Jon & Kate Gosseling (sp?) I don't know much about this but it was a Big Deal to a lot of my friends. :P
posted by like_neon at 4:08 AM on August 27, 2009

Also: Vampires. Buffy the Vampire Slayer was on the air when you left, but since then (probably mostly because of Buffy), vampire media has gone from being a subset of the horror genre to being its own unique thing. The True Blood and Twilight franchises have developed this even further; Twilight went in a cheesy teeny-bopper direction with weird Christian undertones, while True Blood is the raging liberal HBO equivalent. I still can't bring myself to read or watch Twilight, but True Blood, at least, relies heavily on thinly-veiled metaphors for political debates in modern America (the rise of the rural fundamentalist superchurch, civil rights [including marriage] for a group seen to be evil by a large percentage of society). Neither is particularly scary in the way you might expect older vampire media to be, both deal with ethics and the problem of being fundamentally different from everyone else. Both are wildly popular.
posted by oinopaponton at 6:14 AM on August 27, 2009

Picking up from oinopaponton, American TV is still chugging along in a frikken Golden Age. If you haven't caught up on American TV since 1998, please do. Mad Men, Arrested Development, It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia, Six Feet under, 30 Rock, I could go on. TV has lost the air of being "second rate to movies" and a lot of young writers now want to do TV rather than movies.

Unemployment has become increasingly common. Shuttered stores are vacant for much, much longer than they used to be.
posted by The Whelk at 7:10 AM on August 28, 2009

miss a TV show? no worries. you can watch online with ads, download it from your digital content provider of choice, or just wait 'til the end of the season and pick the whole thing up on DVD.
posted by phredgreen at 8:15 PM on August 29, 2009

American TV is still chugging along in a frikken Golden Age

One thing that has changed is that basic cable is no longer a ghetto for original series.

AMC: Mad Men, Breaking Bad
USA: Burn Notice, Psych, Monk, Royal Pains
FX: It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia, The Shield, Nip / Tuck, Rescue Me
TNT: The Closer, Leverage

If you only watch broadcast networks, you're missing a lot of shows nowadays.
posted by smackfu at 8:19 AM on August 30, 2009

« Older I am in despair   |   How should I brand my bankruptcy law firm? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.