"What shall your profit be if you gain the whole world, but lose your own soul?"
- Mark 8:36
When does the learning process end? Is there no age or station in life when you can sit back and say, "I've finished that course?"
Having reached my proverbial "threescore years and 10," I was certain I had the big things sorted out by now. But that was before I spent five days without my infected computer, and learned that my diploma-lined head was full of spyware, too. Today I wonder if the only degree I've ever really earned is a Ph.D. in arrogance.
Addicted? Who, me? Cigarettes? Drugs? Alcohol? Not a chance. When I told my mother I had never even tried smoking, she said I wasn't normal. (Above normal, I presumed.)
Addicted? Who, me? I'm afraid so. All it took was a few paralyzing days away from my work, my book and my connection to everyone I thought considered me indispensable to knock the crown of glory completely off my head. Here's what happened.
Except for reading e-mail or gathering information, my computer and I rarely go online. Most of the time we are simply partners in creativity, I doing the creating and the machine flashing words on screen, correcting errors, grammatical and otherwise, and storing finished products at the end of the day.
Unfortunately, I now know - post-graduate course No. two million and two - that guest grandchildren have different priorities from mine, spending 2 percent of their time creating, and 98 percent on one "space" or another.
That's how on a recent weekend my suddenly icon-covered screen turned an icky blue while dozens of pop-up messages screamed, "Your computer is under attack seriously infected with spyware."
Naturally I was alarmed, but also computer-savvy enough to know that sometimes those attention-getters are the cause of the very problem they want to fix. I also had a virus protection system which I was quite sure would prevent a total meltdown, or at least protect the years of work in those valuable "storage bins" before the funeral.
But, just in case, I turned the computer off - with all the pop-ups I couldn't use it anyway - and waited until the weekend was over to visit my local technician.
The short, Monday-morning session I expected at the electronic "doctor's office" turned into four days, as program after program had to be removed, reinstalled or replaced before the computer was operating again. The only thing - the only thing - salvageable besides the exterior housing was all those years of work which were safely backed up before the surgery began.
And what could I do in the meantime? Not much. I couldn't write a column, revise a chapter in my book, research information, send or retrieve messages. One night I had a 7 o'clock meeting, and I was ready by 5. Yes, I'm addicted after all - to my computer, to my work and, perhaps, to one more thing.
Four days and a few sleepless nights gave me plenty of time to think. Anger at the grandchild I held responsible for the problem was my initial reaction, especially before I knew my documents had been spared. But the new "spy sweeper" in my now fully operating computer also took a swipe at my head, as I realized where my priorities had been, and where they should be now.
"What," Jesus asked his followers, "does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses his own soul?" By paraphrasing these familiar words, the question my computer experience shouted to me was this: "What profit is it to you if you produce award-winning columns, write a fabulous book and gain the praise of the whole world, if you lose your grandchild in the process?"
Practically, we'll deal with the aftermath of the experience by limited and, most importantly, supervised use of the computer. But we'll assess the human results by sharing responsibility for what happened, and by confirming what I, at least, had forgotten: that neither fun and games nor compulsive, ego-inflating work is as important to either of us as we are, and always will be, to each other.
(Barbara Seaborn is a local freelance writer. E-mail comments to seabara at aol.com.)
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