Small Wonders: Too busy marveling at our gadgets?

Last Sunday, instead of going to church, I went for a bike ride. Before you hasten me to a toasty corner of purgatory, know that I listened to a sermon podcast while I rode. Closing my eyes during prayer was dangerous; but nobody on the bike path was in the proper lane anyway, so all were safe.

Some of my best thoughts come while my body is otherwise occupied with balancing on two wheels — breathing, dodging pugs on leashes and moms with strollers. I usually carry a notepad and pen to capture my epiphanies: brilliant insights about Cher, the price of tea in Uganda, or the curious growth on my back. Struck suddenly with another gem, I reached for my notepad and realized I'd forgotten it.

Quick thinking, I paused the sermon, opened the voice-memo app on my iPhone and said these words: "Reality or virtuality?"

Brilliance in a bottle once again.

Later that day, I watched Thing 1 and Thing 2 engage in a heated tennis match on the Wii in the cozy confines of our living room. That was their big present this Christmas. You should have seen their faces when they opened it, brighter than the video fireplace playing on the TV that morning.

As they played, I put on headphones, blissfully secluding myself from the world, and listened to my own shrill voice. And I had absolutely no idea what I was trying to snatch from the ether with those ingenious words.

I'm notorious for this. There's a box in my garage with scraps of paper dating back to 1992. On each scrap is a similarly inspiring nugget that I now can neither understand, decipher nor throw away for fear I'd figured out the meaning of life when I was 25 and just needed to unearth it in the next millennia and share it with the rest of the world. I'll get to it someday. Sit tight.

When the kids switched to Wii bowling, it made me reminisce about Pickwick and Jewel City; the places of my youth where I learned to bowl with 8-pound balls, not 8-ounce game controllers. Saddened, I went online to share this with 600 of my closest "friends" as a status update on Facebook.

I thought about sending out some e-mails too, maybe even texting a few family members while I waited eagerly for someone to respond and validate my observation with a "like" or an uplifting comment within 420 typed characters. But my neighbor interrupted with an Instant Message. By the time we caught up on our daily lives, I'd forgotten what I was working on.

I needed something to chase the melancholy from my mind: a little self-prescribed recreational dose of reality TV. Maybe "Celebrity Rehab," "Jersey Shores" or "Real Housewives of Beverly Hills." Anything to ground me back in the physical, the real world; to remind me what it's really like to be human. Alas, all my shows on the DVR were either reruns or had been erased to make room for more "Phineas and Ferb."

Just as well, because our friends Tina and Robert had arrived with Things 3, 4 and 5 for an evening of food and unsupervised adolescent mayhem. I was immediately challenged by Thing 4, their angelic 7-year-old daughter, to a ping-pong death match. Sadly, I had to tell her we didn't have ping-pong for our Wii.

"No," she scolded. "Real ping-pong, outside."

She showed me the ping-pong table in my own backyard and we engaged in a battle of the ages until only one was left with life in our bodies. Well, not really. But I did crush her.

A few hours later, after seeing how many Things fit into the Radio Flyer, after blindfolded skateboarding and fun with handcuffs, Things 1 through 5 retired to the living room couch to witness Hannah Montana's last stand. The grownups went out back to throw a few logs into the fire pit. The fireplace on my TV is impressive. But this fire was different. Warm.

Maybe it was the wine. Maybe some bacchanalian energy dancing around the pyre. Or just the trusted spirit that always seems to wrap its comforting arms around truly good friends whenever they gather. But as we sat fireside on a star-filled night that was more spring than winter, talking, joking, laughing, being serious and silly, I thought about what I was trying to capture earlier that day.

Are we a culture that would rather live virtually than intrinsically? Are we going down a rabbit hole unaware because we're too busy marveling at our gadgets and filling our time with flickering lights rather than people?

I know what you're thinking. And you're probably right.

Must be the wine.

PATRICK CANEDAY is author of the upcoming book "Crooked Little Birdhouse: Random Thoughts on Being Human." Check it out at He can be reached on Facebook and at

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