Princeton University’s definition of curmudgeon is “a crusty, irascible, cantankerous old person full of stubborn ideas”. My friend Dan takes some pride in owning this distinction: he is enjoying his retirement years a lot—naturally living each day on his own terms, having a lot of fun and to heck with the rest of the world. He wears this mantle with a twinkle in his eye and is actually very committed and connected to what’s going on in the world, although not optimistic about our collective prospects.

Today I am thinking of becoming a curmudgeon myself. Actually we might form a “Church of the Curmudgeon” based on the thesis that God must be pretty disgusted with the whole bunch of us. It would be useful for avoiding taxes and in our periodic services we could discuss curmudgeoning. My reason for thinking about converting is based on two weeks of vacation in Europe and witnessing the species “tourista mobilis”. Each of these creatures will travel thousands of miles to experience different cultures and sights while remaining inseparably connected to their cell phone, iPod® and BlackBerry®. For example, we had dinner for our last night of vacation in Toledo at a very pleasant patio restaurant overlooking the medieval city. As Il Divo filled the space with musical rhapsody, I observed that there were cell phones blazing throughout the evening at 5 of the 9 tables.

I don’t mind people talking on cell phones—although why they must speak louder into a phone than across the table is beyond me. I do mind, in fact I cringe, at the ring tones that people put onto their phones and leave at high volume. There is nothing quite like taking a bite of the most delicious calamari you’ve ever tasted and being assaulted with a blaring and ‘tinny’ rendition of the William Tell Overture, rapper Chamillionaire or a personalized sing tone (a ring tone where the user’s voice is recorded to a popular song and tuned to sound ‘in key’) from the next table.

From the perspective of manners, what is there to say except “Arrgh!!!!” But from the philosophical and social commentary perspective, this phenomenon is really interesting. Are we becoming cyborgs and merging our essence with the ‘technosphere’ as we rewire our brains into some sort of bionic community? Have our attention deficits become so acute that we must continuously react to stimuli or disintegrate into a void of boredom or ennui? Is there a connection between our need to instantly gratify ourselves through constant communication and our constantly seeking gratification through shopping at the same designer stores wherever we travel? For that matter, is there a city left on the globe that doesn’t have a Louis Vuitton, Hermes, Mont Blanc or Tumi franchise?

As Yul Brynner said in The King and I, “It is a puzzlement”.

I propose we start a ‘Curmudgeon List’ of all the sorts of human behaviors or contemporary coming and goings that seem to justify our cantankerous irascibility and stubborn ideas about what makes sense in this crazy world and what is just plain ‘non-sense’.


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