We like to make fun of people who complain about "First World problems" -- selfish bastards who whine about getting stuck in traffic in a world where billions have no transportation at all or complain about too many commercials on TV on a planet where a quarter of the people still don't have electricity.
But the thing is, those petty little daily annoyances are actually huge problems. We just don't realize it. We're talking about things like ...
The Petty Complaint:
Approaching a traffic jam is the transportation equivalent of being pelted by gamma radiation, transforming you into a profanity-bellowing, horn-mutilating Vehicular Hulk. You sit there every morning, not moving, with a growing suspicion that the world's engineers have designed traffic patterns with the explicit intention of making you -- you, specifically -- a half-hour late for work.
"Sorry, boss -- global traffic conspiracy."
The Huge Problem:
Let's start with the obvious: Sitting in clogged traffic causes us to waste an astonishing 2.9 billion gallons of gasoline a year in the U.S. alone, according to the Texas A&M Transportation Institute (TTI). And yes, all of that combusted fuel is puking out exhaust that goes right into the atmosphere -- one study found that we could cut greenhouse emissions by up to 20 percent just by finding ways to freaking get traffic moving already (have you tried honking your horn?).
Have you tried honking it forever?
But then there's the other precious resource that's being wasted: fucking time. Traffic delays might seem silly to complain about when compared to the rest of the world's problems, but if you consider all the other things people could be doing with the time they spend sitting in their cars meticulously plotting the mass murder of every driver within a 5-mile radius, suddenly it's not so trivial anymore. Traffic, in other words, is murdering our productivity.
In 2007 alone, Americans spent over 500,000 collective years wading through traffic jams. That's over 4 billion hours -- and if you take the work that those individuals would have otherwise produced and factor in the aforementioned fuel they wasted, you're looking at over $87 billion the nation pissed away, just because we couldn't get from Point A to Point B fast enough.
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So whoever it was sitting with eyes closed at the green light air drumming to "In the Air Tonight," expect a bill.
It wasn't always this bad, either. In 1982, when TTI first started conducting their annual survey of our perpetually pissed-off motorists, that figure was only $16 billion, or $290 per person. In 2007, it was $750 for each traveler -- and yes, that first figure is adjusted for inflation. But hey, look on the bright side: At that rate of growth, at least our grandchildren will have fewer things to worry about ... such as rent or mortgages. Going home after work simply won't be an option anymore.
The Petty Complaint:
Commercials. For every one you find remotely tolerable, there are a thousand trying to sell you ridiculously overwrought ways to cook your eggs or convince you to switch insurance companies via bad CGI. And the talking babies. Dear God, don't even get us started on the talking babies.
Stupid, prudently invested toddlers.
But this has to be the king of all petty complaints, right? Big deal, so you have to wait an extra 30 seconds before finding out who got eliminated from that week's Project Runway. It's not like these things are destroying the health of our children.
The Huge Problem:
First, if you feel like ads have become more prevalent on TV, it's not your imagination. For example, on late-night talk shows, brand appearances and advertisements make up a whopping 49 percent of all content time. For a cynical adult like yourself, maybe that's still nothing more than an annoyance you can ignore, but kids are a different story, and they're watching more TV than ever before -- nearly 25 hours per week for ages 2 to 5.
Their pliable little brains also happen to be the most fun for advertisers to mold into profitable shapes, which probably explains why the average preschooler sees 642 TV commercials every year for the sugary desserts food companies like to call "breakfast cereal." And that's not even counting the junk food commercials they see about once every five goddamn minutes. Experts say there's a direct link between the talking pets pushing candy-coated processed salt squares and the shameful childhood obesity rate in the U.S., but there's also evidence that this is actually just the start of an endless cycle of consumer brainwashing that follows you for the rest of your life.
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So you're saying this is all linked to our ability to still sing the Golden Grahams song?
A study from Claremont Graduate University that followed almost 4,000 students from grades seven through 10 found that the more exposure adolescents had to alcohol advertising, the more likely they were to not only use alcohol, but have serious alcohol-related problems, including missing school and being the subject of an after school special.
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Or drinking their liquor with olives in it. Eugh.
And the scariest part is that you don't even have to pay attention to the advertisements for them to worm their way into your brain. University of Bath researcher Dr. Robert Heath explains that the most effective way for advertisers to get us to heed their message may actually be for us to pay no attention to it at all. Basically, the theory is that if you pay attention to an ad, your mind identifies what it's being told and has the opportunity to mentally counter the message, which makes it less effective. If, conversely, the ad is so plain and boring that you simply space out altogether upon viewing it, your mind offers no defense for the argument being made and lets it seep straight into your subconscious, unopposed and completely unbeknownst to you at the time. Buy our shirts.
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The Petty Complaint:
You probably don't make too big a fuss if the temperature is a few degrees off from what the TV weatherman predicted, but if he screws up and forecasts clear skies, only to have it rain? Oh damn, shit just got real. Doesn't he realize that you have golf to play, baseball games to attend, and school buses to ramp? How are you supposed to plan any of that without being able to properly gauge the day's potential wetness?
"Sorry, guys, the duel's off. Looks like Al Roker couldn't get his shit together again."
Only 2 inches of snow on the day I was supposed to go snowboarding? They said there'd be 7 to 9 inches! Such a ridiculous degree of inch discrepancy is completely unacceptable outside of a high school boys' locker room!
The Huge Problem:
Entire governments and economies hinge on those fickle weather forecasts.
Take energy companies -- they use weather forecasts to determine how much power they need to generate for a given day (there's no sense firing up an entire power plant for three dudes sitting at home playing Xbox), and if the estimates are off, they end up having to purchase additional energy wholesale at insanely jacked up last-minute prices. And when we said "insanely jacked up," we weren't kidding -- we're talking up to 10,000 percent increases. The estimated savings work out to a $1 billion decrease in the annual cost of electricity if we improve the accuracy of our forecasts by just 1 degree Fahrenheit, and that's not even counting the untold bajillions of dollars' worth of First World whining it would prevent.
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"We get it! It's chilly! Put on a sweater and shut up about it!"
Also, every time the weatherman forecasts a blizzard that turns out to only be a couple of flakes, communities miss out on untold amounts of commerce and productivity when their entire populations transform into zombies that crave bread and milk instead of brains. In Washington, D.C., alone, the federal government loses $100 million a day every single time it closes its offices.
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Apparently Weather Wally in the Mornings costs somewhere between a large hurricane and a small war.
This is why the USA has a National Weather Service -- it's not there so people can plan their picnics. While they're fairly accurate overall, American forecasts pale in comparison to their European counterparts. For years the National Weather Service has been so underfunded that it's struggled to pay its employees and hesitated to hire new ones, and as a result the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts has left them in the dust. Europe has computer systems 10 times more powerful than those in the U.S., and in 2012 they were able to predict Hurricane Sandy's path toward the East Coast a full two days before the American model did -- and two days is a long goddamn time when people are waiting to find out if their house lies directly in the path of a rampaging hellstorm.