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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 ...

5
Traffic Jams

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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.

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"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?).

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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.

4
Commercials

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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.

Via YouTube
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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3
Unreliable Weather Forecasts

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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?

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"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.

2
Brief Power Outages

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The Petty Complaint:

How long could society go without electricity if we really had to? After all, statistically you've probably had an hours-long outage just in the last year. And sure, even one hour is long enough to start mapping out the Facebook status update your fingers can't wait to type or start building the growing shit list of people you intend to blame for this disaster. But if we're honest, one whole day without power isn't THAT big of a deal. Light a few candles, cook something on the grill, read a book.

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Frankly, by killing the TV in a house full of candles, Allied Electric probably gets half the city laid.

And even two days, while annoying, wouldn't ruin anybody's life, right?

The Huge Problem:

So how much can one brief power outage cost? Try 7 billion goddamned dollars.

During the infamous Northeast blackout of 2003, much of the Northeast U.S. and Ontario were without power for anywhere between a couple hours and two days. It doesn't sound like much in the grand scheme of things, but even in blackouts that short, costs snowball quickly, and the results can range from mildly unfortunate to absolutely catastrophic.

Take Republic Steel, for example, which was just one of multiple steel companies that went full-on Michael Bay that day, all because the outage kept them from cooling the iron in one of their furnaces. The resulting explosion and fire caused the company to miss out on seven weeks' worth of production and they had to file for bankruptcy.

Digital Vision./Photodisc/Getty Images
After a lifetime of action movies, it's kind of easy to forget that fiery explosions are actually a bad thing.

They're not alone, either. At least eight oil refineries were shut down, causing The Man to toss out the term "gas rationing." Over 30 chemical companies in Ontario's Chemical Valley were likewise affected, losing tens of millions of dollars in revenue. At least 70 auto plants were shut down, putting over 100,000 people out of work. Sixty grocery stores closed, and 174 banks. Oh, and any perishable food in the blackout area's refrigerators became involuntary compost, a cumulative loss of over $250 million that affected some 22,000 restaurants in New York alone.

Photos.com
Plus it wiped out our Galaga high score.

So, yeah, that's what happens when modern society goes without electricity. For two days.

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1
Spam Email

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The Petty Complaint:

It's an annoyingly unfortunate but necessary reality of living in the digital era: You have the one email account that you give to people you actually hope will contact you and a second account that you give to everyone else, like tossing T-bones at hobos to keep the spam hounds off your scent. But the spammers will never rest. They are going to find you, and they'll never be happy until you admit that your penis is entirely inadequate. You too, ladies.

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BigrBonerz420@dickzilla.biz knows your secret shame.

The Huge Problem:

Those pesky automated emails aren't just annoying; they're a bona fide menace to society that zaps enormous globs of valuable time, money, and resources from our planet every single day.

The unnecessary hassle it adds to managing our email accounts is more than just a nuisance: 104 billion man-hours are spent reading and manually deleting spam every year, and the costs for American consumers and firms to defend their inboxes clocks in at at least $20 billion per year (perhaps even as high as $50 billion). Combine those effects -- the time we waste managing spam and the costs to fight those who spread it -- then extrapolate them across the world, and you're looking at a total of $130 billion per year in lost productivity.

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"Luckily, we've recently begun corresponding with a Nigerian king who can help recoup some of that."

Wait, there's more! About 87 billion spam emails were sent out every day on average in the third quarter of 2012, and the total for all of 2010 was about 95 trillion ... yes, with a "T." Every single one of those messages had to be generated on a server somewhere in the world. Additional servers were necessary to send, receive, and eventually delete the messages. Just like the effort you put forth in opening them, realizing it's probably not a good idea to give your credit card number to a stranger who offered to cold sell you cock pills on the Internet, and pressing "delete," all those things require electricity.

Thanks to that unseen chain of events, each spam email is estimated to produce the same greenhouse gas emissions as driving a car 3 feet, and if there really are 95 freaking trillion of these things being sent out every year, spam has an annual carbon footprint equal to driving a car around the world 2 million times.

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Which would be totally worth it if the pills had actually worked.

And let's not forget the damage caused by the shit that slips through. The only reason spammers exist is to steal money from gullible Internet denizens, and by all accounts, they're doing a fantastic job: Just one run-of-the-mill pharmaceutical scam can generate over $3 million in revenue per year, while a 2009 analysis of the absurd Nigerian 419 scams found that they stole over $9 billion that year from dumbasses in more than 150 countries.

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Hell, that almost makes us want to change jobs. At least we wouldn't have to sit in traffic.


Follow Russell on Twitter.

Related Reading: Speaking of disasters with insanely huge impacts, a massive collision with the moon made all life on earth possible. And these tiny computer glitches caused big problems like Google accidentally blocking the entire Internet. And if you don't believe a poorly designed UI can cause horrific disasters, you'll be surprised by what lies behind that link.

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