The first world problem problem

by Toby Manhire / 08 December, 2011
Is #firstworldproblems a handy, funny shorthand, or a small-minded condescension?
First world problems. You may have encountered this ironic category on Twitter, on Facebook, or even on that most old-fashioned of social networks: spoken conversation. What does it mean? Over to the site that helps you know your memes: Know Your Meme.

First World Problems, also known as “White Whine”, are frustrations and complaints that are only experienced by privileged individuals in wealthy countries. It is typically used as a tongue-in-cheek comedic device to make light of trivial inconveniences.


The most circulated example with the hashtag #firstworldproblems on Twitter as I write is this:

The ‘Low Battery’ flash on my blackberry makes me think I have a text.


From the latest batch at the Tumblr collection First World Problems:

I have to take the stairs every day in my condo instead of using the elevator in order to avoid making small talk with the front-desk attendant.


There’s also a category devoted to the genre at Reddit.

And the site White Whine collects Facebook examples, such as:

my dad just told me that we were getting a 62 inch plasma tv a 3d blu ray player an xbox and surround sound – but he still won't get me an ipad.


While White Whine scoops up examples that almost invariably betray a total lack of self-awareness, the Twitter hashtag tends to be deployed as a knowing wink – a kind of, “I’m aware my complaint is trivial in the grand scheme”.

But just when the liberal guilt assuaging device has become ubiquitous, along comes a liberal critique, delivered – via Twitter, naturally – by Nigerian-American novelist Teju Cole.

In a series of tweets reproduced at the Atlantic website, he writes:

I don't like this expression "First World problems." It is false and it is condescending. Yes, Nigerians struggle with floods or infant mortality. But these same Nigerians also deal with mundane and seemingly luxurious hassles. Connectivity issues on your BlackBerry, cost of car repair, how to sync your iPad, what brand of noodles to buy: Third World problems. All the silly stuff of life doesn't disappear just because you're black and live in a poorer country. People in the richer nations need a more robust sense of the lives being lived in the darker nations. Here's a First World problem: the inability to see that others are as fully complex and as keen on technology and pleasure as you are.


One event that illustrated the gap between the Africa of conjecture and the real Africa was the BlackBerry outage of a few weeks ago. Who would have thought Research In Motion's technical issues would cause so much annoyance and inconvenience in a place like Lagos? But of course it did, because people don't wake up with "poor African" pasted on their foreheads. They live as citizens of the modern world. None of this is to deny the existence of social stratification and elite structures here. There are lifestyles of the rich and famous, sure. But the interesting thing about modern technology is how socially mobile it is--quite literally. Everyone in Lagos has a phone.


Cole's thesis touches a nerve with the Atlantic's Alexis Madrigal, who writes:

It builds a useful sense that one's problems are not the only significant things in the world. I've probably even used it, and I've certainly thought it. But, for inchoate reasons, I have come to dislike it when people tweet #firstworldproblems.


Mind you, as with any such enquiries that posit a kind of moral hierarchy of concerns, arguments can end up chasing their own tails. As one commenter on the Atlantic post puts it, paraphrasing Madrigal:

"I've used the term, previously thought it apt, see the humor in it, but am still uncomfortable with it because of some 'inchoate' deeply ingrained white guilt."


MIGHT AS WELL HASHTAG THAT #FIRSTWORLDPROBLEMS.




MostReadArticlesCollectionWidget - Most Read - Used in articles
AdvertModule - Advert - M-Rec / Halfpage

Latest

Government pulled u-turn on accommodation supplement
73814 2017-05-29 07:54:27Z Politics

Government pulled u-turn on accommodation suppleme…

by Jane Patterson

Fears of rent rises saw a plan to boost to the accommodation supplement shelved two years ago. But it's been resurrected.

Read more
Is this enzyme the elixir of youth?
73785 2017-05-29 00:00:00Z Health

Is this enzyme the elixir of youth?

by Nicky Pellegrino

Want to live longer? An enzyme that helps cells maintain themselves could be the answer to slowing or even reversing the ageing process.

Read more
'Your daughter is history': Dirty deeds done in the Dome
73773 2017-05-28 00:00:00Z Crime

'Your daughter is history': Dirty deeds done in th…

by Susan Strongman

A 19-year-old woman is left for dead in Dome valley.

Read more
The crushing workload of those on the frontlines of health
70348 2017-05-28 00:00:00Z Social issues

The crushing workload of those on the frontlines o…

by Jenny Nicholls

Athena Drummond hates the term “junior doctor”. It implies she is inexperienced, with “limited responsibility”. We think she has a point.

Read more
Billions of dollars of arms to Saudi Arabia? What a great idea
73761 2017-05-28 00:00:00Z World

Billions of dollars of arms to Saudi Arabia? What …

by Joanne Black

The only times Trump’s presidency has not depressed me are those occasions when I have thought I was reading satire and laughed at its cleverness.

Read more
The Girl on the Train author changes tracks
73654 2017-05-28 00:00:00Z Profiles

The Girl on the Train author changes tracks

by Michele Hewitson

Zimbabwe-born Brit Paula Hawkins turned culture shock into a runaway bestseller with The Girl on the Train. Can she repeat this with Into the Water?

Read more
Why director Gurinder Chadha tackled modern India’s brutal beginnings
73652 2017-05-28 00:00:00Z Movies

Why director Gurinder Chadha tackled modern India’…

by James Robins

Best-known for her film Bend it Like Beckham, Chadha has focused on the mass displacement that happened when the British abandoned India.

Read more
How social media can help reform your eating habits
73637 2017-05-28 00:00:00Z Nutrition

How social media can help reform your eating habit…

by Jennifer Bowden

With users and recipes by the millions, it's not surprising what social media can do.

Read more