Slow inflight Wi-Fi? Barista got your latte order wrong? Let Bill Gates put that in perspective for you

They’re probably not talking about how to get that terrible U2 album off your iPhone.
They’re probably not talking about how to get that terrible U2 album off your iPhone.
Image: Gates Foundation
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The annual letter from Bill and Melinda Gates is getting a lot of press today. As well it should: The two have put billions of their own money into trying to make the world a better place for the billion or so people who live in extreme poverty.

The letter is pretty inspiring, full of grand ideas about making life less nasty, brutish, and short. But it’s not all high-minded hope and aspiration. There’s also a deflating bit of context in there for those preoccupied with what might be referred to as first-world problems:

The rich world will keep getting exciting new advances too, but the improvements in the lives of the poor will be far more fundamental—the basics of a healthy, productive life. It’s great that more people in rich countries will be able to watch movies on super high-resolution screens. It’s even better that more parents in poor countries will know their children aren’t going to die.

This isn’t the first time Bill Gates has tried to bring some much-needed perspective to prevailing narratives about how technology can improve the world in the 21st century. In an interview with the Financial Times (paywall) in 2013, the Microsoft co-founder (and world’s richest man) spoke frankly about the mission to bring internet connectivity to all the world, much-touted by the world’s biggest tech companies:

“Hmm, which is more important, connectivity or malaria vaccine? If you think connectivity is the key thing, that’s great. I don’t.”