Grumpy and Grumpier

I apparently am a member of Generation Grumpy, or those, at least in its original designation as Grumpy Middle, born between 1962 and 1971, and didn’t even know it.

Those of us between 45-54, according to the Chicago Tribune editorial writers, have had “a remarkable mix of boom and bust, pleasure and pain” throughout our adult lives, including multiple recessions (e.g., the 1980 and 1982 double recession) and crashes (e.g., the 1987 stock market collapse), as well as have experienced the effects of globalization and the internet. Moreover, our gains, such as record stock market growth, have been limited by lingering losses, such as years or weak economic and wage growth.

I am grumpy, I guess, although I’m grumpy, and alarmed, for the same and different reasons. Perhaps the most pressing is the increasing presence of digital devices. Those of the Grumpy Generation were adults — mid-thirties to mid-forties — when the iPhone was invented in 2007, so we have witnessed the digital colonization of everyday life.

I’m no Luddite — I’m often exploring the affordances of new digital technologies — but am alarmed by the loss, or lack, of limits on these devices. For example, I rarely attend an entire performance without a ringing or at least buzzing cell phone, and more and more am distracted by blinking blue lights near other audience members’ ears. Researchers, such as Robert McChesney and Sherry Turkle, are documenting the economic and social effects of these technologies, but I’m less hopeful about alternatives than some seem to be.

Another reason I’m grumpy is the current condition of our political leadership. Again, those in the Grumpy Generation were adults when globalization accelerated as a result of converging connections, so we have a more varied perspective on these social implications.

I’m no anti-globalist — I explain that some convincingly argue that globalization can explain much, if not most or even all, human history to my intro to global studies students — but am alarmed by the recent shift in leadership in our nation-state. To be sure, I objected to some of President Obama’s policies, such as his use of drones, but had never been prouder to be an American in this increasingly global world. At the moment, I’m embarrassed that we’re led by someone who, for example, has bragged about sexual assault or has such a cavalier approach to facts or truth, and I’m stunned that conservatives, after resisting the previously elected president, are using the current one to advance such a debilitating political agenda, as illustrated in their Supreme Court confirmation or recent tax form legislation, without challenging his proto-nationalism.

I can’t get, in other words, what I want — some sacred social spaces and informed and intelligent political leaders — and that makes me grumpy, at least until I remember the audacity of hope.

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