Skip to main content

The Globe and Mail

As I get older, I’m trying to grapple with a society that seems impatient and self-immersed


Present tensed

As he gets older, Paul Patterson wonders why the museum selfie is more important than the museum piece

Facts & Arguments is a daily personal piece submitted by readers. Have a story to tell? See our guidelines at

I've been asking myself lately if 67 is too young to become a grumpy old man who's losing touch.

It's not that I suffer from cognitive issues although becoming a senior citizen, as they say, is not for sissies. Those who know me might even describe me as a laid-back, easygoing guy who, on occasion (when the bar is free and the beer is cold), can be quite whimsical.

Story continues below advertisement

But lately I find that the news, social customs and technology are becoming more difficult to fathom and I'm wondering if it is just my own aging brain cells that make me feel as if I'm wearing brown shoes with a tuxedo or is everyone feeling it and just waiting for the old guy to speak up.

For instance, I wonder if I'm the only one who doesn't understand the ubiquitous use of cellphones in museums and art galleries.

When you have it on your bucket list to see some of the world's great works of art before you shuffle off, your anticipation gets heightened the closer you get to your goal.

Then it comes crashing down in an instant because instead of gazing at a masterpiece by Claude Monet your view is blocked by a teenager posing in front of the painting taking her own picture much to the amusement of her girlfriends waiting their turn.

I'm not sure when having your picture taken required posing like a model, but these young people (bless them) posing in front of my cherished Monet are doing the full Christie Brinkley complete with hair toss, over the shoulder head turns and hands on hips.

They see themselves in these photos, but not the art.

I don't understand why anyone has to take a picture in an art gallery. If all you want is a photo of an artwork rather than the experience of viewing the original, then buy a postcard or download one.

Story continues below advertisement

My wife, who is younger, smarter and has a kind face that would make puppies smile, tells me that it is not about recording the art, it's about bragging on social media about where you've been.

I know that this year is the 10th anniversary of the iPhone and, given the hype around that occasion, you would think that it ranks up there with the invention of the flushable toilet. (Which one of those advances improved our lives more? Discuss among yourselves.) So is it wrong for me to once in a while wish for things the way they used to be?

There was a time when people were choosy about taking photos because the film cost money to develop.

The cameras were also heavier back then and who wants to stroll through a museum with a brick around your neck?

Museums such as the Prado in Madrid ban phones and cameras. So this old guy is wondering whether it is so much less self-aggrandizing to just pose outside the building?

And yes, I have a cellphone, albeit one that you have to flip open to use, but if you do it with flair, you can imagine yourself on the bridge of the Starship Enterprise.

Story continues below advertisement

In case you're wondering, I'm neither a Luddite nor a dilettante; in fact, I'm an early adopter of mobile phones. As a young reporter with the CBC, I remember when our newsroom got its first mobile phone.

It was bigger than your shoe, but we jockeyed for the privilege of using it in the field arguing that our assignment was so important that it needed the immediacy of a cellphone.

I'm sure we used it for all the right reasons but what a thrill to have pizza delivered directly to your news cruiser.

The technology of news gathering has come a long way since those days, but to this old guy, more modern doesn't always mean better.

Is it politically incorrect of me to say that I don't understand citizen journalism, the idea that everyone is a reporter these days or am I just being grumpy?

I trained and studied for years to become a journalist learning at the feet of some of the greatest reporters Canada could boast. Most of them have gone now and their legends mingle with the myths surrounding the coverage of the Marilyn Bell Lake Ontario swim (if you're under 60, you may have to look that up).

I know, as you get older, you tend to cling to things that you believe are tried and true. Why? Because you tried them and found they were true.

But as I read news websites and social-media posts, I don't understand what happened to truth, facts and corroborating sources. I get that anyone with a computer can call himself or herself a journalist, but IMHO (how's that for current?) it doesn't make it so.

I still look forward to reading an actual newspaper.

The welcome old familiar feeling of leaning back in my favourite chair and opening a broad sheet is like slipping into a warm bath.

Forgive me if punching a keyboard or stabbing my finger against a tablet screen doesn't seem to fill that need.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not one of those old guys who yearn for "the good old days" and tells his kids how he used to walk five miles to school in the snow.

I'm just a guy who's trying to grapple with a society that seems more impatient and self-immersed.

And, since this old horse can smell the barn and I might not have the luxury of a long time to figure all this new stuff out, I'm left wondering if it's just me.

Maybe I'm clinging to old ideas and values that are already so archaic that they don't have a place in the world of selfies and fake news.

Or maybe, as my wife would confirm, I'm just getting grumpy.

Paul Patterson lives in North Vancouver.

Report an error
As of December 20, 2017, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles as we switch to a new provider. We are behind schedule, but we are still working hard to bring you a new commenting system as soon as possible. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to