First World vs Third World innovation

One of the fundamental things I struggle with is understanding how and why people choose to solve the wrong problems. Maybe this is a trait more pronounced in the millenial generation wherein they care more about social causes, are aware of global issues and are alarmed about climate change. Or maybe its just me.

I come from a belief that the best minds need to work on the most difficult problems. When we innovate on First World problems, our solutions sound like this — betters filters in Snapchat, a higher resolution camera, a self-parking car. When we innovate on Third World problems, the solutions sound like this — solar powered lamps, low-cost water filter, phone-powered irrigation systems.

Now, here are the arguments I concede to :

a) Problems in the first world are different than that in the third world, but they are problems nevertheless

b) Any innovation needs R&D and that needs resources (time, money and right people). This is more easily accessible in First World places. Once an innovation is established and has proven itself, it can have applications in different type of problems

c) Different people derive satisfaction from different things. Some truly believe their life goal is to make a phone thinner and that will change the world, and others believe they need to make better rockets so that we can explore Mars and get out of Earth.

But when there are innovations like this — — I somehow find it very hard to believe that this solves or helps anyone. I find it extremely frivolous and an extreme vanity and have no respect for it. I guess its similar to the people who want gold plated toilets. To them, I really ask, When people are dying in Africa, is this really the best way to spend your money?