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The Problem with the #First-World-Problem Trend

The Problem with the #First-World-Problem Trend


Nov 7 2012
Instead of inciting real change, the Internet meme just breeds guilt about legitimate complaints.

Two weeks ago, while getting one of my sons ready for some bedtime reading, the house went dark. I stifled a curse. As I navigated down steps in the pitch black, I didn't stifle my frustration: "Are you kidding me?!" While we were accustomed to losing power during our Midwestern summer storms, losing power during October drizzles was new.

Amid my stomps and utterances of protest, I got the other kids settled with flashlights while I called the electric company. It could be hours, they said. Hours, at least, was better than days, the usual amount of time our power liked to take off for vacation. But still, I took to the Twitterverse to voice my displeasure, to air my complaint, to share my pain.

But this time, I did so with some reservation. Because the last time I did—this past summer, when our power took its usually days-long hiatus, when all I needed was some tea and sympathy—I got slapped with a pesky meme instead.

Once upon a time, seeing #firstworldproblem—a snarky Twitter hashtag that's since spawned websites and YouTube clips—at the end of a shallow Twitter-plaint made me laugh and stop to think. I came to appreciate that when my favorite coffee shop ran out of chai, the sarcastic hash-tag phrase floated through my brain and kept my annoyance in check.

I also came to value #firstworldproblem as a "teachable moment" tool for my kids. When they had thrown back their heads in disgust as they stood in front of the pantry lamenting "nothing to eat" because they were sick of Chips A'Hoy, I found instructing them in the fine art of #firstworldproblem worked better than the "starving children in China" rhetorical strategy that parents of yore used (to little effect—I still don't eat peas).

Indeed, #firstworldproblem has done much good in the way of helping us remember that no matter what challenges and heartaches we face, most of them seem quite small compared with the global problems that starve people of the most basic necessities of life. It's a fun way to acknowledge our spoiled Western natures and catch ourselves mid-tantrum. #firstworldproblem is a lovely reminder that instead of mumbling and grumbling, we ought to be doing a bit more thanking.

I've come to hate the meme.

More specifically, losing power for days last summer forced me to hate it. Because when I posted my complaint—my genuine frustration at not having power—a "friend" smacked a #firstworldproblem on my Facebook feed. One simple hashtag—one that once had the power to illuminate my own self-centeredness and help me recognize my blessings—now pushed me to a place of shame. And that ain't good.

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