The Microcomplaint: Nothing Too Small to Whine About

Illustration by Kaye Blegvad

Excerpt from this article:

The same technology that allows people to voice their displeasure with dictatorships, police brutality and prejudice also enables them to carp about mediocre meals, rude customer service and that obnoxious guy at the next table who won’t shut up.

It was once considered unbecoming, or annoying itself, to moan publicly about trifling personal ordeals. Now, in a seismic shift for the moral culture, abetted by technology, we tolerate and even encourage the “microcomplaint”: the petty, petulant kvetch about the quotidian.

…The category of the “complaintbrag,” a cousin of the humblebrag and “first-world problems,” a term that has drawn its own share of first-world complaints for its patronizing stance toward non-first-world inhabitants.

In what may be the most common example, the offender moans about a lack of free time (besides that devoted to tweeting, of course) because of the burdensome demands of a hugely successful career. Horrors of luxury travel feature prominently.

The smartphone in particular has facilitated extemporaneous caviling. Irritations that the passage of time may have soothed can, in the moment, be immediately expressed to an audience. Often these complaints take the form of a narrative developing in real time: the talkative taxi driver, the hostile airline ticket clerk, the interminable security line, the malodorous seatmate and crying baby. Such threads frequently pick up steam as the audience validates or shares the narrator’s posts; the nuisances others must contend with can make for excellent vicarious entertainment, and accreting Likes tend to fuel the microcomplainer.

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