The Long and Short of the 4th Dimension
Everything is sorta the same, but different, you know what I mean?
Whether it is the stuff we face as individuals: mid-life crises, trying to maintain a healthy work-life balance, a prioritisation of the material and the intangible; or the issues we face as nations: a shift in population demographics towards an increasingly ageing population, the rising cost of healthcare on national coffers, corporate greed; there is a certain puzzling characteristic about these “#firstworldproblems”.
They feel so inane at times, especially when compared to the challenges faced by developing countries. Challenges such as famine, war or poverty, which have plagued us since the dawn of creation. First-world problems seem unique to our time, yet are similar to third-world problems in that they are fundamentally driven by the same primeval forces of self-interest and greed.
What makes most first-world problems feel unique is the adjustment we have had to make because of a significant shift in our perception of time.
One of the key changes that has contributed to the uniqueness of our situation is the dramatic increase in life expectancy. We have never had so many people live such long lives. Traditional career spans may no longer yield sufficient savings to tide one through an extended retirement period, and then there’s the issue of healthcare…
The undeniable fact is that we now have more time.
On the converse side, we are increasing the speed at which we live our lives. We demand faster promotions as we climb the corporate ladder. We have an endless barrage of information and data fed to us through multiple channels and devices. We want to get to the good life earlier in our lifetimes than the generations that have preceded us.
So on one hand, better healthcare has given us more time, and on the other hand, the demands of city life have compressed time, enabling us to reach desired standards of living earlier, achieving more in a shorter time when compared to our predecessors.
What have we done with all that extra time saved?
Do we pursue ever-increasing standards of living, filling our lives with more material things, only to feel enslaved to work longer in order to fuel the demands of a high-maintenance life, fearing that life itself will stretch beyond our means?
Or do we live more frugal lives, investing the excess time in charity, or solving the problems of developing nations?
There have been recent discussions about how privileged first-world inhabitants should not arrogantly portray ourselves as saviours of those living in the third-world. I was initially a little apprehensive at condoning a slowdown in efforts to tackle issues faced by millions who live in developing countries, but a little introspection revealed to me where those authors were hinting at.
Maybe the developing countries aren’t the only ones in need.
Maybe we are the impoverished. Maybe we are the ones who are starving. Maybe, just maybe, we are the ones in need of saving, for surely we have, in our quest to evade physical death, lost our grasp on the value of life. We have forgotten the joys of parenthood and the warmth of family. In the first-world, we speak more often about “the cost of raising a child” than the intrinsic rightness of having children. We no longer revere our aged as wise and deserving of respect, but bemoan the fact they are no longer economically productive and are a “burden”.
We have gained the most precious thing in all the world: time, and we have absolutely no idea what to do with it except complain.
The battle, enshrined in Kennedy’s famous words, “against the common enemies of man: tyranny, poverty, disease and war itself” is a rallying cry for us to help our brethren in need. But we enter the fray not because we are saviours heaven-sent, but because it is in this same battle we put to action our convictions; where we stave off a first-world amnesia and rediscover the important things in life, restoring the sanctity of time with a life well-lived.