First World Problems are Third World Problems and Second World Problems too.

It’s time to accept something: #FirstWorldProblems are dead. 

Pullquote share icon. Share

First World Problems supports a mythology that is woefully incorrect.

Used to describe a complaint that is thought to be trivial in nature, First World Problems makes one thing clear: Those of us living here in the “first world” are wealthy and challenged with small issues, while those other people living over there in the “third world” are in a state of constant survival.

[Also on Longitudes: A Future of Happiness, Tolerance and Youth]

A dangerous narrative 

Only those of us living in the “first world” can be frustrated by forgetting to plug in a charger, looking weird in a virtual reality headset or some Twitter basics.

Put Apple Watch on charger… Didn’t plug charger in…. ???? #firstworldproblems
— Jenn (@LandinosMah) May 31, 2016

The narrative behind First World Problems supports a mythology that is woefully incorrect and dangerous. The mythology goes like this:

Poverty exists in a different part of the world where everyone is poor. And over here, well, everything is pretty much fine in comparison.

And as a result, we perceive entire nations and continents as being damaged, wholly damaged, and in need of foreign intervention.

And this is where we commit our biggest error; before we even begin a human-centered design program focused on social good, for example, we’ve already reinforced patronizing power dynamics that consistently put poorer nations at a disadvantage.

[Also on Longitudes: What the New Generation of Wearables Will Look Like]

We exoticise and romanticize poverty over there and become blind to poverty right here.

The reality of the 21st century is that there is exceptional wealth and fast flowing money everywhere in the world. And poverty can be found in every country.

It’s been well researched that inequality between countries is dropping, while inequality within countries is on the rise. In other words, poverty is in our backyard, and wealth is just around the corner.

There simply is no such thing as a #FirstWorldProblem anymore. 

Pullquote share icon. Share

We’ve already reinforced patronizing power dynamics that put poorer nations at a disadvantage

The origin of the term is even more telling. First World, Third World and yes, even Second World, were political designations used during the Cold War.

The First World was the U.S., Western Europe and aligned nations. The Second World was China, the Soviet Union, Cuba and aligned nations.

The Third World was all the countries that remained non-aligned with NATO or the Communist Bloc, and as a result, it suffered from proxy wars and political and economic coercions and eventual desertion when the Soviet Union fell.

Along with that history, let’s put #FirstWorldProblems to bed and rise to the challenges of the 21st century by making use of our increasingly global knowledge. Let’s speak with nuance and say what we actually mean.

I think it might be time to come up with a new hashtag in lieu of the now outdated #FirstWorldProblems

What about:





(This isn’t my strong suit, so help me out and suggest some actually good ones!) goldbrown2

This article first appeared on Institute for the Future and was republished with permission.


Every morning, wake up to the blog that gives you the latest trends shaping tomorrow.

Tessa Finlev is a Research Director at Institute for the Future.

Click the RSS icon to subscribe to future articles by this author. RSS Feed