First world problems

We live in pampered times. Living in 2018 Britain, most of us don’t have to worry about not finding food to eat, clothes to wear, a roof over our head or having to walk ten miles every day just to get a bucket of water, so our heart strings are easily tugged when we see unfortunates hit by famine, natural disasters or disease. The BBC’s annual “Children in Need” appeal has now raised over a billion Pounds since its inception in 1980, as generous people pledge from their warm living room to help disadvantaged youngsters. Maybe, it is because we are generally living such comfortable lives that we feel we must also be looking for reasons to have problems in our own lives and so people fret about their looks, their weight, their house, their car. Back in the 1990s, not many people had mobile phones, yet now everyone ie required to have one and not just any old phone. As Apple continued to raise the bar, our requirements for such gadgets became ever more demanding. First, it was the ability to speak to someone as you were walking down the street, then you were able to send texts. Then you could use your phone to listen to music. Then it could access the internet and you could send emails. You could read newspapers, take photographs. Then you could listen to podcasts, watch tv on catch up. The development of various apps opened a world of social media meant you could reach out to friends and contacts from all over the word. You could check your bank balance, insure your house, apply for a loan. You can even give to charity via text. The cost of owning a phone got cheaper, as contracts became more flexible through fierce competition. Now you argued about which was the best smartphone to have and which provider offered the best contract. Teenagers became obsessed with phone envy, arguing over Apple versus Samsung and whose phone had the biggest screen. Pressure was created where pressure never existed.

In adults, the angst manifested differently. Less obsessed with appearance, the problems were more basic. At first, the stress came from not getting a signal, of losing connection mid phone call. Then the problem of how quickly your phone’s battery drained, made much worse if you had forgotten to charge it overnight. Then along came wi-fi and you could not enter any bar, restaurant or business premises without first asking for the wifi password. Especially if the mobile signal there was rubbish. Now there is a new angst and for once, it’s not phone related: it’s, “Do you take contactless?”

At first, a bit gimmicky and the attraction of simply waving your credit or debit card at the reader to pay for things just seemed a bit unnecessary, even lazy. But as their use has become more and more widespread, so has the level of this new angst, as we stride towards a cashless society. Now you don’t have to worry so much about forgetting to visit  the cashpoint, as you know you can buy most things from your newspaper to a pint of beer with a mere wave of the plastic. It makes for better budgeting too, as you only spend exactly what you need and the days of pockets or purses full of coins are gone. As will be having a giant whisky bottle full of 1ps and 2ps that will never be opened or counted. I have fully embraced the contactless world, but I have now also developed the panic and paranoia that sets in when someone doesn’t accept contactless and only accepts cash. It happened to me last night at the theatre when I was buying some M&Ms from the usher. I genuinely broke into a cold sweat, when I had to dig around in my trousers to find a ten pound note that had not been disturbed since my last visit to the cashpoint many moons ago. The utter wretchedness too, when having made my purchase, the clink of coins in my pocket for the rest of the evening. Last time this happened, I thought ahead and kept the coins for the ticket machine in the car park, but was a broken man when I found out that that too had now gone “card only”.

So now, alongside my piles of Euros, Cents and Krona, I have a growing pile of Pound coins and fifty pence pieces, that I am struggling to get rid of. I could always bag them up and visit the bank (which is no longer on my high street, but six miles away at the next town), but last time I went there to deposit money, a man with a name tag directed me to a machine on the wall which, once fired up, only performed card and cheque transactions! Argh…Now where’s that giant whisky bottle…???

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