'First World Problems' seem so insignificant

Published 03/12/2013 | 05:30

A friend was telling me recently that she was getting more and more frustrated with her iPhone. Apparently when she updated to iOS7, the latest software update for iPhone, some glitch had occurred where she lost her favourite playlist and she now had to go back and redo it. It seems that her iPhone 5s was fantastic at some things, but simply was frustrating at others.

I said to her that I was glad I didn't have that particular 'First World Problem'! This confused her of course so I had to explain what I meant, which resulted in my witty sarcastic remark losing it's effect. My attempt to be funny slightly backfired on me, because now I had the frustration of trying to get across what I meant, and ended up having a 'First World Problem' of my own. Confused? Let me explain.

'First World Problems' are frustrations and complaints that are only experienced by privileged people in wealthy countries. The frustration or complaint conveys simultaneously that you are both fortunate and irritated. In the case of my friend with the iPhone, she was fortunate to be able to afford to have an iPhone, and irritated because it wasn't doing everything that she wanted it to do.

Another example would be complaining about Wi-Fi being slow, resulting in irritation and frustration for the user. In a nutshell, 'First World Problems' are issues that are complained about by people in the First World, only because of the absence of more pressing concerns. Even when we have so much luxury and are pampered beyond belief, we can still find things to complain about. The term is used sarcastically to minimise complaints about trivial issues by shaming the complainer.

I think we all have our moments of 'First World Problems' where we complain about things that really are so silly when we see them in the light of the real world.

Last Summer I went to Zambia with a group of secondary school students. There we witnessed first-hand the living conditions of orphans and street-children, of struggling families who exist on so little. For the price of a carwash here, a family could easily be fed for a week out there.

One memory that sticks with me was of a little boy called Peter who had one prized possession in the entire world. He was so proud of it and he guarded it like a precious jewel - while he would allow you to look at it, and admire it; he would never let it out of his grip, just in case! What was it? Well this is the amazing thing – it was completely worthless.

If you took a digital wristwatch and stripped away the strap and everything else, and all that remained was the exposed inner part, just the piece that contained the battery and the screen where the digits are displayed, that was it. It was useless, it didn't tell the time, but it was Peter's and it could do something. It was special. Even when shown the iPhone's that our students had with them, he didn't bat an eyelid – his possession was his, and it was amazing to him.

Apparently five of the worst 'First World Problems' are: 1. Its boiling hot outside but freezing in the air-conditioned office, 2. My personal trainer took the week off so I have to work out alone, 3. My wallet won't close because there's too much notes in it, 4. I bought a dishwasher and now I spend longer loading and unloading it than I did washing up, and 5. My Brie is too hard.

While we dream this year that we might have a beautiful White Christmas again, the words of Band Aid's 'Do They Know It's Christmas' spring to mind: 'there won't be snow in Africa this Christmastime'.

Enniscorthy Guardian

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