Thought Leadership

1st world and 3rd world technology

By Colin Walls

A common phrase, which I seem to hear with increasing frequency is: “That is a 1st World problem.” Such a challenge is normally something to do with modern technology – perhaps a smart phone not synchronizing with the cloud properly. Ultimately, a 1st World problem is a matter which seems annoying, but is actually trivial in the global scheme of things. Most of all, such problems seem totally unimportant when compared with 3rd World issues – like lack of food/water, mass genocide, stuff like that.

This week I encountered a couple of examples of new technology – one aimed at the 1st World and the other clearly intended for the 3rd World …

I had a message from one of my daughters – “I think you might like this” – and a link to a product. She was right. I did like it, but I am not going to buy one in the near future. The product was a WiFi enabled kettle. The idea is simple enough: you can turn on the kettle, from where ever you are, using your smart phone. You can also set a temperature you want the water to be heated to. You can ask it to keep the water warm. It will even wake you in the morning, and offer to boil water, or welcome you home in a similar manner. Here is a video:

This is all very smart, but who needs one of these things? They are not ridiculously expensive [about $150], but what problem does it solve? Do you sit on the sofa wishing you could start the kettle boiling, bearing in mind that you need to get up to make the tea/coffee in due course anyway? The reality is that it would probably not work from time to time and you would get up and find the kettle cold. I have a machine that simply delivers a cup full of boiling water at a touch of a button. It is much simpler and does just what I want.

By contrast, I heard about some technology destined for the 3rd World, which I actually find more interesting. It seems that there are a very large number of deaths caused directly or indirectly by cooking practices in the developing world. Commonly, inefficient stoves are used in confined space, which results in a fire hazards and smoke inhalation problems. Some smart people have designed a better stove to address these issues.

This piece of kit can use a variety of fuels and generates heat very efficiently, using half as much fuel as conventional stoves, with very low emissions. And what do they cost? The answer is about $20 a piece. I think that I would rather buy half a dozen of these, and send them to people who need them, than have a WiFi enabled kettle …

Leave a Reply

This article first appeared on the Siemens Digital Industries Software blog at