There's one thing where you really would expect things to have been better in the good old days: raw resources.
One reason why drilling for oil is improving constantly is that the original techniques no longer do the job. Certainly, there's no place on earth where the crude oil is just bubbling up from the earth, ready to be hauled off in buckets or pipes as you please. Again, Fascist Italy got a lot of good iron out of the slagheaps left behind by the Romans. This reflected not only the improved smelting techniques, but the lack of ready iron ore as good as the Romans had. (If they had had it, would they have the improved techniques? Hard to tell.)
This can even be disastrous. The people on Easter Island were in sad shape when Europeans discovered it, and them. Once, it had had trees, but when they deforested it, they lost the ability to make boats, and so cut themselves off from a supply of food from the sea. Similarly, the first humans in New Zealand got rid of their chickens and went after the stupid and defenseless animal population. When they had exhausted that -- it took a few centuries -- cannibalism was common. Lesser problems are also possible.
So if your cranky old man is saying that in his day, you didn't have to march up and down hills for hours to find your firewood, he -- just may be telling the truth.