The Real #FirstWorldProblems

I Want to Turn Off the Lights but the Bed is Too ComfortableIf you’re one of those people who like to be connected to social media – and if you’re following this blog, the odds of that are probably high – then you have likely encountered the meme #firstworldproblems. Here are a few in case you’re not familiar:

  • I can’t decide what to eat because my fridge is too full.
  • I want to turn off the light but this bed is too comfortable to get up.
  • I asked Santa for a 32GB black iPhone and got a 16GB white one instead.
  • My smartphone changes lol to LOL, making me sound overexcited.
  • I don’t have enough dip for my chips, but if I open another container, I won’t have enough chips for my dip.
  • I left the remote on the other side of the room.
  • I’m thirsty but all I have is water.

Nothing To Wear, Nothing to Eat

Ummm… yeah

I’ve been thinking about this meme for a couple of weeks because people tend to use it in different ways. Some seem to use it to legitimately complain about their lives. Some use to make fun of those who legitimately complain about their lives, sometimes to the extreme of it being essentially a weapon to convey the point that first world people don’t really have any problems. Some, like me before realizing it could be understood many ways, use it to say something like “I can’t believe this is what I’m really complaining about.” It’s a way to challenge my own thinking by reminding myself how ridiculously good my life is primarily by virtue of simply being born in the right country.

Moving past the meme, though, we can ask a lot of tough questions about the problems facing the First World. There are legitimate issues facing the Western world and in a ironic roundabout way many of these memes actually point toward them. We all have a natural drive to get more. Maybe this drive is an evolutionary development which for most of our history helped us survive. Maybe it is a God-given trait for the same or another reason (or maybe God used evolution to do it and these two options aren’t really distinct). There’s no doubt that Western culture also encourages materialism and me-first individualism, but I do think that the natural element is also there waiting to be exploited. Even those outside of the First World do have this drive to some degree, and in that sense everybody has the problem of always feeling like we need more.

This is what I therefore consider the real First World Problem: we don’t know how to control our drive to always have more. The drive in and of itself is not necessarily the problem. Even the economic system based off of this desire, capitalism, is not necessarily the problem. Capitalism requires lots of spending but it does not require lots of spending on excess for yourself (in other words, spending for those who need it does still stimulate the economy just as much). We simply have no concept of disciplining our own spending in particular or this drive for more in general. Instead, we always look to those richer than us and use that as motivation to amass more for ourselves at the expense of others.

Ironically, the First World has a lot of very real problems that the rest of the world doesn’t because of this core problem. I’m mainly thinking about mental illnesses. We have a huge portion of the population dealing with depression, anxiety, or any number of other things. I would argue that at least sometimes these problems occur because we set up our children with these grand expectations of being able to do everything which turns out to not actually be true. I’m not trying to degrade those who have mental illnesses. It’s not like they can just snap out of this worldview that is contributing to it. I’m simply pointing to the correlation – and I would say causation – that our individualistic and consumeristic worldview is causing. It’s not nearly the freedom and the ultimate path to happiness that it claims to be. It is instead causing a wide range of very real first world problems.

I’m challenging all of us – illness or not – to question this dominant worldview. On one level, we have very few issues in the First World, but on another level, we have simply replaced it with an issue that is even harder to deal with because it gets to the core of how we look at the world around us. I firmly believe that everyone would benefit from a shift away from this worldview. But as Christians, we have been specifically taught a better way by the God/man we call Lord. We have been taught not to worry about our own security. We have been taught to make peace. We have been taught that it is better to die for others than to kill even our enemies. We have been taught that love casts out all fear. And we have been taught that like a mustard seed growing into a huge tree, the Kingdom of God will expand through our everyday decisions to live by Jesus’ worldview instead of the one taught by our sinful instincts and our selfish culture.

Ryan Robinson

It is easiest to identify Ryan as both theologian and tech guy. By day, Ryan is a Technical Consultant work with PeaceWorks Technology Solutions. There, he works on websites, CRMs, and SharePoint implementations. Along with blogging here, Ryan is a founding member of the MennoNerds blogging network and a contributor to the book A Living Alternative.