Doc and all, I fully agree and disagree with you!
When I see the advances brought on by computers in my engineering field of work (and I believe the same applies to every other kind of job), and I see the work my peers did 20-30 years ago, I am amazed by the loss of the FUNDAMENTALS of what I do. Their understanding of the basic principles was far more advanced than what it is now. Computers have brought with them the concept of "Nintendo Engineers" where pushing a few buttons is all that is required to do a decent job. Is the job better done? I am doing things now my peers only dreamed about. I can do in a week what it took them months to do. Do I give a crap about most of what I do? No. If I screw-up the first time or something was amiss (remember the fundamentals?) I can just do it again, no problem. Same in watch-making. Bad batch? No problem, let's do another one.
Can you go sky diving, chop wood with a chainsaw, dance to frenetic rythms with a modern watch? Yes. With an older one? No.
The concept of "things were better made in the old days" is at least as old as the concept of "olden days" itself. Tradition this, tradition that, etc... from beer and wine to suits and watches and life in the woods.
In the olden days, things tended to be hand made a lot more, and first and foremost, things were made to last. These were days where people bought something well made to last their lifetime and beyond, from hand-tailored suits made of the best materials, to quadruple hand-stitched leather shoes made from the back rump of lambs from Eastern Ireland aged between 1.5 and 2 years old, to cars made to last a lifetime, etc...
When something was made to last, it did (cathedrals?).
People making things by hand (lets call them artisans) had to learn for many years their trade and applied it with dedication and pride (not for the side-of-the-street sausage buns or cat burgers). The final product was something amazing that was meant to be worth of money you spent on it.
So, were things better made in the old days? Yes, without a doubt. If you want a hand-made watch, look no further than early 1960s I would say. Anything post 1985 is definitely not hand made. People actually cared about the watch they sold you, from the finishing to the workings of watch. How long did it take a watchmaker to make a simple watch? Longer than a machine to laser-etch 50 complete movements to be chain assembled.
Watches more hand-made still have a touch of the magical and "je ne sais quoi".
So, are things better made today than they were? Yes, without a doubt. The technology used in materials engineering, piece design, and manufacture are without a doubt better than ever. A watch made today would be the envy of any older watchmaker including Breguet himself. Are watches nowadays made to last? I don't think so. Watch companies want you to have a watch turn-around to make you dizzy and increase thier profits. If you bought a watch to last forever, they wouldn't be millionaires. Look at the VC mini-movie ("secrets" I think) where the guy goes to VC with his father's old watch and basicalyl leaves with a modern version of it and leaves his father's watch behind!!! What happened to tradition, and bla bla bla?
Don't forget that "traditional" beer made as they used to 700 years ago would probably taste like the worse crap ever made.
Good cigars can still only be hand-made. That is a last bastion of the good old stuff. It takes over 5 years to be able to roll the best cigars... How long did it take watch makers in the old days to be abel to make a watch? How long does it take them nowadays?
Where do I stand? I stand with you Doc, but things are better made now, just not made to last.