It’s incredible how dependent we’ve become on things that didn’t even exist a few years ago.

Summer House Soap has been experiencing a computer meltdown for the past two weeks. Shortly after Hurricane Irene passed through, I lost access to email, the internet, Quickbooks, and everything else. (I mention Irene not because it had anything to do with the computer problem, but because the effect was like a hurricane. We were completely paralyzed.)

The problem began when we set out to replace my old computer. Son Patrick installed all the programs and files and then left for college. All seemed to be well.

But within a day, the screen went black. A tiny screw had come loose, causing a bracket to fall off and a unit to start flopping around inside the box, disrupting the monitor connection.

It seemed like a fixable problem requiring just a little guidance. Jitendra from Dell in Hyderabad, India, talked us through the repair and I thought, “I love tangible things that can be fixed with hands and a screwdriver!” I’m a hands-on kind of gal myself. In college, I helped organize an auto mechanics cooperative for women. Back then you could fix a car with socket wrenches and a set of phillips head screwdrivers.

But cars are no longer that simple, and neither, apparently was my computer problem. Systems worked briefly and began to fail. After many hours on the phone and two visits from technicians, we returned the unit and got a new one. It will be a while before all systems are operating smoothly.

My point is this. Our lives are dominated by things that are intangible and invisible. I guess this has always been the case – angry gods wiped out crops, evil spirits and mysterious humors struck down the old and the young. But even as people contended with these otherworldly influences, most of daily life was spent in intimate engagement with the material world.

Not so now. Or more accurately, we’re still embedded in the material world but we no longer know it. We’re sitting in chairs, at work or at play, mesmerized by our beautiful screens. Then every once in a while the screens go black, and we don’t know what to do with ourselves.

So let’s not let the material slip out of our lives. Go out to the kitchen and chop some onions for soup. Weed the garden, even scrub the toilet. Knit. Sew on buttons. It’s important.