“I hate when my phone charger won’t reach my bed”
“When I go to the bathroom and I forget my phone”
“I hate it when my neighbors block their WiFi”
“When my mint gum makes my ice water taste too cold”
(“First World Problems Anthem”)
How nice it must be to enjoy a nice glass of water, and have it taste cold, no less. How nice it must be to have gum that comes in a brightly colored package made from ink that also makes crayons, school books, and coloring pages in the aisles preceding the checkout counter where the gum was purchased. How nice it must be that the gum was probably placed next to a small red refrigerator containing the gloriously tasting bubbly cancer water that consumers can conveniently purchase in singles, six, and twelve packs for even more guzzling fun at a fraction of the price. How nice it must be to be able to hear that satisfying *spritz* of carbonation and have the bottle additionally act as a cooling mechanism for foreheads suffering under the beating sun adjacent to the brightly lined swimming pool. How nice it must to have the opportunity to casually throw that bottle out of a plane during a thrilling adventure through the sky, littering the ground below, without any consequences. How nice it must be to be rid of that bottle since it was taking up the cup holder space where the next bottle will rest.
How nice indeed it would be to be rid of that bottle, thought Xi, the protagonist of The Gods Must Be Crazy, a film directed by Jamie Uys (Baden, par. 1). As a Bushman living the Kalahari Desert, the most advanced technology that Xi has ever experienced is two sticks coming together to make fire---up until this strange thing fell from the sky. One would think that this thing, or as modern civilization calls it, a Coca Cola bottle, would be a great addition to his family’s life style. It is hard and sturdy; it can act as a rolling pin; it can be used to store water or dried meat; they could even break it and use the sharp edges to more easily cut meat and wood. But with all of the good that comes with the bottle, there is also evil that infiltrates Xi’s family. Not only was it prone for fingers to get stuck in (Uys 9:44), but since there was only one, it could not be shared, so it brought about selfishness, envy, anger, hate, and even violence (Uys, 10:44-11:18). Probably the most interesting feeling the bottle brought was the feeling of need for something the Bushmen never needed before.
A need for something they never needed before, even when the circumstances have not changed? What an oxymoron! This is the reality of many modern civilizations. When a thing appears, or is invented for convenience, after a couple of generations, people cannot fathom getting by without it. There is just absolutely no way that a person can function with a hairline crack in their iPhone, especially when the new edition has just come out. It is preposterous to suggest that somebody should hang their clothes out on a fence to dry when the machine has broken down. Oh dear, there is no WiFi or 4G LTE; without Google Maps getting lost is a definite. A real map? Made of paper and everything? But if Siri is not there to tell one when to turn, then the map is useless. This is the mind set of many modern civilizations. While helpful in everyday life with communication, convenience, and creativity, the excessive use of ‘stuff’ has become the true first world problem.
The trend #FirstWorldProblems was obviously meant to be a joke. But what is the point of the joke? Perhaps it is to make people feel better about themselves for not caring about the children and adults in Haiti who recited some of these ‘first world problems’ in the video “First World Problems Anthem.” The true problem is that new generations are not taking these as jokes anymore, but rather, conceiving them as real problems. Children are so privileged now that the biggest problem in their lives is peeing without Fruit Ninja when there are some children who have never seen a piece of fresh fruit in their lives. What is worse is that the children are so privileged that they do not understand what is wrong with that picture. They do not understand how this dependence on ‘stuff’ impacts them, because they have never known a weekend without their cell phones. They have never finished a magnificent 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzle of a wild animal when they had to stay home from school because of a fever, or created blaring music with pots and pans to the beat of the thunder claps on a rainy day, and they certainly have never considered that these seemingly harmless tools are unconsciously making them unhappy. They cannot conceive living without this ‘stuff.’
Xi’s family however, knows that there is no way that they can live with ‘stuff’ without being unhappy. The Bushman tribe sees that this simple tool, although helpful, also tore apart their family and their values. Now, the rise of ‘stuff,’ specifically technology like smart phones and social media, is very beneficial in some ways. Society can spread news and keep in touch with loved ones on the other side of the world. That is nothing short of amazing. One woman says “…technology does keep me in touch with people I wouldn't necessarily have the time to meet with face-to-face on a regular basis” (Cafferty, par. 13) which is generally true for most people, as well. But the same woman also says “I think that we need to have good technology etiquette while in public” (Cafferty, par. 13). It seems that humans have lost the ability to effectively interact with other humans in person, with the exception of a few in close circles.
It has become a challenge amongst the species to not look at one’s phone for longer than five minutes instead of filling a silence with substantial conversation. Children can hardly think of games to play with each other that do not involve iPads, let alone that involve being outside and getting their hands dirty. It seems that the most substantial conversations some children are capable of is telling another how much they love another’s possessions, and how they wished their parents would buy them more gifts. The Bushman children in the film have never had a case of the ‘gimmes’ because they have always shared and appreciated what Mother Nature has given them. They are not bored to tears without a virtual bird to fling at a pig because “their games are cute and inventive” (Uys, 4:33). It is clear to most people that technology, while extremely convenient and helpful, also has certain detrimental factors to the human race. But being an extremely self-oriented species who “refused to adapt himself to his environment, and instead he built his environment to suit him” (Uys, 6:15), what many people fail to notice is that the true first world problem is that all of this ‘stuff’ is killing the ‘first world’ that they live in.
The Story of Stuff is a twenty-minute film that was released in 2007 by humans who are green with love for Nature in attempt to educate other humans who are green with envy. The initiative was to educate people about where this ‘stuff’ that they hold so near and dear comes from; how it is made, who is involved in making them, and the impact this ‘stuff’ has on the environment pre, during, and post-production. Annie Leonard, writer and narrator of the film tells her audience that the system of production is in crisis because “…it is a linear system and we live on a finite planet and you cannot run a linear system on a finite planet indefinitely” (par. 3). Leonard explains the first step in this system of production: extraction. Extraction of what? Natural resources of course, but perhaps exploitation is a more fitting word. Just one example would be an electronic device. The inside of almost any battery powered item comes from the mountains that were blown to bits causing groundwater contamination, damage to the foundations of surrounding houses, and impacting local climates (Pachiolli, par. 15). People justify the mountain blasting by having a mindset of ‘But this helps the world to go paperless, the trees will be saved!’ What many people do not realize is that there are thousands of non-paper products that come from trees. Just a few of these things that humans use every day are toilet seats, rubber, and our own clothing (wisconsincountyforests par. 1, 3).
It is not just trees however, that industry exploits; in the last thirty years alone, the world has consumed one third of Earth’s natural resources (Leonard, par. 11). One third in thirty years. The first humans began to evolve from apes between four and eight million years ago (Wikipedia, par.9), modern humans evolved 200,000 years ago, and civilization came about between six and seven thousand years ago (Howell, par. 1), but somehow, our species has managed to suck up almost half of the Mother Earth’s resources in less than a lifetime. And just in the United States alone, Leonard tells us “we have less than 4% of our original forests left. Forty percent of waterways have become undrinkable… We [The U.S.] has 5% of the world’s population but we’re consuming 30% of the world’s resources and creating 30% of the world’s waste” (par. 13, 14). Many countries, especially the United States, exploit third world countries for their resources in order to effectively take more than their share of Earth’s gifts. The result? Poverty, disease, famine, dirty water, no water, and of course, no natural resources. No plants to clean the air. No trees to prevent mudslides. No mountains to maintain the rainforests and deserts. Land so barren that nothing can grow. Far less animals to balance out the ecosystem. There are even far less animals for food, so to solve that problem, humans choose to tear down forests, killing millions of more animals, to make room for the factories that will breed millions of other animals who will be inhumanely killed for their meat and who’s skin will be tossed away or be processed with bleach, glue, and other poisons to trick pet owners into thinking that it is a great treat for a dog. If only people were more like Xi, who humanely tranquilizes his deer, apologizes to it, and slaughters it after it is asleep so that it does not feel pain (Uys, 5:00). He even uses the skin and carcass for water pouches, shelter, tools, and clothing.
Developed countries have been living in such an advanced way for so long that it is unrealistic to attempt to live like the Bushmen. However, minimalizing consumerism on items that a person is capable of living without or can have access to right in their own backyard is a great way to simplify their everyday life. Growing one’s own vegetables for example is a fantastic way to get fresh and tasty food while also purifying the air around one’s house. Cleaning out one’s closet for donations monthly or bi-monthly is a good way to give back to the community while slowly but surely allowing one to realize that they do not need a wardrobe that is bursting at the seams to get by. Allotting a 15-minute period each day that will be ‘technology free’ is a simple way to allow a person to relax and focus on themselves, be more productive domestically, or have a face to face conversation with someone. This can even become a goal oriented activity for a person, working their way up to an hour or two a day of no technology. Though none of these changes appear to significantly counter the mass destruction of the planet, it is important that life style alterations are made, no matter how big or small.
In Xi’s family, “they believe the gods put only good and useful things on the Earth for them to use” (Uys, 3:09). There is no need for them to exploit certain resources, because everything has a good use. They do not have problems of one person having more than another because there is plenty of what Mother Nature provides for everyone. They do not need to make new discoveries or new ways of doing things because they are perfectly content with what they have. Nobody in their family suffers, nobody is lacking, and nobody is unsatisfied because they have the respect for one another and the Earth to be able to live fruitfully without living excessively. There is no distinction of first and third worlds because they recognize that they are all children of the same Earth, the same gods, and that there is no need for such a separation of their brothers and sisters. Xi’s family even briefly experienced what it was like to live “excessively”, and it did not take long for them to choose to go back to their traditional lifestyle. The Bushmen live in a harsh and dry world, but yet their Earth is bright blue and lush green. Modern society lives in an abundant and plenty world, but yet our Earth is an oily black and barren brown. It is apparent in the film how one single piece of technology destroys a family, so how come modern societies are blind to how endless pieces of technology are destroying their very own ‘first world?’
Cafferty, Jack. "Technology Replacing Personal Interactions at What Cost?" CNN. Cable News Network, 3 Jan. 2011. Web. 25 Mar. 2017.
Howell, Elizabeth. "How Long Have Humans Been On Earth?" Universe Today. N.p., 23 Dec. 2015. Web. 01 Apr. 2017.
"Human." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 30 Mar. 2017. Web. 01 Apr. 2017.
Leonard, Annie (director). The Story of Stuff. Free Range Studios. Dec. 2007. Web. 25 Mar. 2017.
Pacchioli, David. "Assesing the Human Impacts of Mountaintop Removal." Www.psu.edu. N.p., n.d. Web.
"Products Made From Trees - Wisconsin County Forest Association." Wisconsin County Forests Association. N.p., n.d. Web. 25 Mar. 2017.
Uys, Jamie (director). The Gods Must Be Crazy. Dir. Jamie Uys. New Realm, 1980. Film.