“#firstworldproblems,” The Washington Post, May 2014.
Stop talking about problems that don’t exist.
The term “developing country” is a bit odd — as though societies start in the Stone Age and progress, inexorably, toward Las Vegas. It is better, though, than the old designation of “Third World” vs. “First.” Unfortunately, the “First World” has made a comeback, in the form of a self-indulgent and self-referential meme: first-world problems.
The phrase, which began as a Twitter hashtag but has infected offline conversations, is essentially a humblebrag disguised as a complaint. Bleating about traffic while en route to your beach house or venting that your favorite Moleskine notebook has been discontinued is a subtle way of flaunting your tastes and privilege. And no, your winking self-awareness doesn’t make it any less annoying.
Broadcasting your #firstworldproblems presumes that individuals in wealthy countries have troubles that individuals in poorer societies can’t possibly comprehend. It reinforces the false idea that there is no commonality across cultures. However, the human experience is more universal than different. Dry cleaners lose clothing, boyfriends do not call their girlfriends, Internet routers stop working, and products are sometimes out of stock — whether you’re in East Asia, East Africa or the Upper East Side.
Most dangerous, the term implies that no real problems exist in rich countries. The challenge of economic inequality, for example, was long overlooked in America, in part because of its self-regard as a wealthy nation. The United States revels in such exceptionalism — in spite of pay-to-play politics and high rates of executions, incarceration and deaths from gun violence. Now those are #firstworldproblems worth ranting about.