“First World Problems” – A Phrase That Doesn’t Solve Anything

Sofia Banzhoff

You’d have to live under a rock without internet connection to not have heard the phrase “First World problems.” And even then, your non-rock friends probably used it to shut you up. Everybody says humans are social beings, but sometimes it seems that all we want is someone to listen to our complaints (and to have sex with, obviously).

But how do we use the phrase? It’s supposed to put things in perspective, to make us realize that we’re actually pretty lucky. It’s supposed to remind us that the Third World may be a long plane ride away, but is nonetheless real. However, that’s not how we use it, neither on nor offline. No, we use it as a joke. Sure, those memes are funny. A laugh may momentarily distract us, but it does not necessarily put things into perspective, and it certainly does not inspire compassion for those who have to deal with what we should call Third World problems.

Compared to those facing absolute poverty we do not have “real” problems. Compared to the extremes, anything we struggle with is irrelevant.

Still, everyone finds problems that “match” their lifestyle – no one lives a carefree life, except children who have yet to be convinced of Santa’s not being real. We worry about whether we are obese instead of whether we eat at all, about when we will graduate instead of whether we can ever start school, about whether we can pay the mortgage instead of whether we have a place to live. We may have food, water, and shelter, but that does not mean we are not scared, lonely, or worried about the future.

But the things we call first world problems aren’t “true” problems. At best, they’re minor inconveniences: not having campus-wide wifi – not a problem, just go to the next internet cable outlet or academic building. Biking to Plus to get cash to spend at the bar – not a problem, just get over yourself and on your bike. Wasting five minutes turning on UCU computers to print something early in the morning – not a problem, just close your eyes and enjoy the power nap.

So please, start using the phrase in ways that help reduce differences between the two worlds.

And if that’s too much to ask, just stop joking and shut the fuck up.

Top 5 First World Problems at UCU

1. The Panini situation in DH: either tuna, or a five-minute wait – we’re truly caught between a rock and a hard place.

2. Your chipknip running out mid-print – having to take another trip to DH, the horror!

3. No automatic front doors in Newton – but at least the science majors get some exercise.

4. Boomerang people can’t count.

Additional food for thought: Water is Life’s video “First World Problems Anthem.”


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