Hashtag objectifies third-world issues

Sometimes when I’m in the Banner newsroom, my laptop charger doesn’t quite reach the wall, so I have to move to reach the plug. It makes my life hard, because I’m lazy. It’s very much a first-world problem.

We’re all familiar with the trend.

“They got my order wrong at Starbucks again. #firstworldproblems”

“I still have an iPhone 4. #firstworldproblems”

It’s amusing and clever and self-deprecating. It’s also self-indulgent, self-serving and a little bit irritating.

I came into this editorial thinking I’d go on a rant. Maybe I’d bag on women who use the hashtag to convey their dismay over having to get up early to put on makeup.

Maybe I’d confess my frustration that the original intent for the first-world problems hashtag was to bring to light the fact that they are indeed the problems of a developed nation—smaller, less significant, than world hunger or war.

But it’s not used for that now, instead serving as a vehicle to validate the struggles of a society that doesn’t have “real” problems.

So I did my research. Scrolled down the hashtag on Twitter. Watched those videos where they have children in third-world countries recite these “first-world problems” to a camera, objectified, simplified to this idea of the dichotomy between “rich” and “poor”—these children reduced to their poverty, these tweets reduced to their arrogance.

I found that the videos, a rebuttal to the popular hashtag, made me angrier than the tweets.

The tweets may be ridiculous and shallow, but the videos reduce living, breathing human beings to one-dimensional objects to be pitied.

They’re too poor to experience first-world problems—and that’s supposed to make us sad. Using children as a tool to further a cause is definitely worse in my book than complaining on Twitter about a poor Internet connection.

Your first-world problems may not be real problems. They’re certainly not as significant as not having clean water to drink, and it is very true that I have precious little sympathy for the person whose name was spelled wrong on her Starbucks cup.

Me, every time, by the way. But it’s OK; I’m over it.

But what are we supposed to do? Find the one person in the world who has the certifiably worst life and give him or her the free pass? Congratulations—you, yes, you, have a truly horrible life and are now the only person with the right to throw a pity party. Everyone else can get over it.

That’s no way to live. There’s a balance to living with the kind of privilege we have in the United States. We need to be aware of the difficulties many around the world face. That doesn’t mean selling our possessions and living in a similar way—that’s not helpful to anyone.

But it does mean cultivating a healthy appreciation for how good we have it here.

It’s OK if the restaurant you’re eating at doesn’t have Wi-Fi to occupy you while you wait for your food to come. At least you can afford to eat out.

About Rebekah Wahlberg


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