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Posted January 9, 2014 | comments Leave a comment

Roger Barbee: 'The world is too much with us

By Roger Barbee

By most accounts, the time of the recently passed holidays is busy. And, there is much to get done, especially if one has children. Also, family and friends may be coming for a visit, so there is work in preparing food, beds, and bathrooms for all those visitors.

If you are not spending the time at home but going to visit family, the planning for your trip requires work and planning. Yep, most of December (and more) is spent in the busyness of the holidays -- be it necessary or self-imposed.

However, for Mary Ann and me, Christmas is not hectic. Our grown children are scattered about so there is some, but not much, visiting with them and grandchildren. And, the Internet has made gift purchasing rather simple. All we had to do was ask what each grandchild wanted and then we ordered it in time for delivery. It is not a personal system, but it is efficient for us. So, this being the case, I could not figure why I have felt so rushed and busy in recent weeks. I had felt constantly behind and in a rush to catch up for some sense of accomplishment. Then, just before I suffered an emotional collapse, I realized....

Mary Ann and I have had flip phones for years. However, hers malfunctioned, and she could not use its camera. We discussed the various plans for a new phone for her, and one day in late November we were being shown smartphones by a qualified salesman in Harrisonburg.

As we looked at different models for her, he asked what phone I used. When I took out my battered flip phone, he used the opportunity to explain how we could save money by purchasing two of the smartphones while assuring us that all our vital information would be transferred to the new phones. Mary Ann and I discussed our options and with the contract signed and new phones in our pockets, we drove home. In that brief drive my life changed -- and as so often happens in ways I did not then comprehend.

I confess that I was a bit excited when we arrived home and settled in to examine our new phones. And it was as the salesman had promised -- much personal information had transferred. Even my Google mail accounts were there.

A creature of habit, I was also a bit apprehensive about this new tool, and what I would need to do in order to master it. I read the booklets, Mary Ann purchased a soft case for both, and the protective shields were placed.

As I sat entering contact numbers from my flip phone, I studied this new contrivance and wondered.

However, as friends and students and wrestlers saw the phone, they seemed pleased for me. They all, to a person, told me how much I would enjoy it, and that I would learn to take advantage of all the "apps."

Almost as if I were walking across a frozen pond, I would allow someone to "load" a new application on my phone because they had found it to be essential. Soon, its screen was full of icons representing everything from contacts to weather -- all available by a simple swipe of my index finger.

I tried it. I lived with it for weeks. I asked questions of friends who had owned one for years. I asked my wrestlers and managers to help me use some application, to instruct me in its finer qualities . Everyone told me, "You'll learn to use it and like it."

I tried. Honest. Then, while driving on The Pike one day, I was summoned by it once too often when it whistled at me three times before I could reach school. As I parked, its flashing blue light rushing to get my attention, I sat in the car and recalled a poem.

In 1802-04, William Wordsworth wrote the sonnet, "The World is too Much With Us; Late and Soon," in which he laments that people are so busy they do not stop and see nature.

He writes in line two: "Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers:" As I read his sonnet that night, I felt that "the world is too much with us" [me], and the next morning, over coffee, removed all but the most essential apps from my phone.

For me, the new phone with all its "getting and spending" proved too much, and I realized that I was not as important as the phone (and its inventors) wanted me to believe.

Roger Barbee is a retired educator who lives in Edinburg with his wife Mary Ann, four dogs and five cats. Email him at redhill@shentel.net.

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