Living in Excess

“Too many people spend money they haven’t earned to buy things they don’t want to impress people they don’t like.” – Will Smith


A screenshot from the #firstworldproblems video. Photo by: TheGiftOfWater © 2012

Tyler Danner, Columnist

Rihanna, a future resident of New York City, will move into an apartment that will cost her $40,000 a month. However, the luxury space is not ready for move-in until her $500,000 renovation turning three bedrooms into three walk-in closets is done.

Consider the stark contrast between a celebrity in America (earning around $200 million a year) and a child living in rural Africa. They’re basically incomparable. The child from Africa wouldn’t even know how to respond to the extreme amount of material objects a celebrity has. You could argue, though, that the child has a more enriched life than the celebrity.

In America, fulfillment is generally chalked up to having the most stuff or being more rich than your neighbor. Children are raised with the mindset that they have to do well in school to get into a good college to get a good job that will make them a lot of money. This kind of thinking tends to foster children who believe that they are nothing more than their grades and if they don’t want to go to college, their worth is null. All of this links back to the advent of the “market revolution” that began in the late 19th-century.

In the 19-century, the quality of American goods began to increase and advertising became more and more prominent, causing people to feel the need to buy more and more things; and as the quality increased, so did the price, which led to the competitive nature of buying that can be seen today. Americans view their property as luxuries, meaning the more property a person has (provided it’s not to the level of a hoarder), the more luxurious their life. The idea that we need to have lots of money and have a lot of objects to our name is not an idea that was created in Americans’ heads organically; it was all advertising.

I just find it extremely hard to accept the value we put on material objects in this country. Children are taught their entire lives that money is a very good, and a very important, thing to have. Whenever I have things to complain about, I always think of how someone from a developing country would react to it. For example, when I’m upset that I don’t have a smartphone, I think about how people in the rest of the world don’t even think about things like that, and they have to worry about how they’re even going to eat that day. I feel that I have an ability to imagine the perspective of the rest of the world, and that’s something most Americans really lack. Perhaps if we’d all spend a while in the position of someone outside of our own country, we’d understand how trivial our problems really are.

There’s a video on YouTube of children from Africa reading things from the #firstworldproblems on Twitter. One of them that really stood out to me was a young boy reading, “I hate when my house is so big, I need two wireless routers.” He said this while standing in front a small shack with a dirt floor. I feel that Americans need to make a decision as to what really matters to them (and hopefully having the strong family bonds seen in other cultures would be more important than their material items), and live their lives according to that- instead of how media tells them to.