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Technology in moderation

Earlier this week, I spent a half hour being a kid again by watching an old episode of "Jonny Quest."

Some bad guys had hijacked an underwater vehicle Dr. Quest developed for the Navy. In the process, they took Jonny and Race Bannon hostage. To help them get out of their predicament, Jonny used his video "communicator" to contact his dad. Prior to that, his dad had used the same device to remind Jonny to do his homework, prompting Jonny to complain that the "world has gotten too scientific."

The communicator, of course, was nothing more than a 1960s version of a cell phone or a handheld computer with a Web-cam, but it was far-fetched enough in 1965 to make it a gee-whiz gizmo and an integral part of the plot.

Forty-four years later, the gee-whiz factor is gone because the communicator's modern counterpart is nearly as much a part of everyday life as the air we breathe. I'm sure the phone companies would like to convince us it's every bit as important, too.

And to many, it is. Everyone knows someone who checks their "CrackBerry" every two seconds, and I think most teenagers simply fall down and die if they don't send 500 text messages a day.

Technology has become such a force in our lives that many of us who remember simpler times sometimes find ourselves longing for them. One person might wish for the good ol' days when they only had three channels, and another might pine for a time when they didn't have any, but we're all seeking the same thing - simplicity.

My Aunt Cathy told me a great story that demonstrates why. She was in line at a restaurant waiting to order. The woman in front of her was talking on a cell phone. When it was the woman's turn, she told the cashier to wait while she finished her conversation.

Thirty years ago, an incident like that couldn't have happened. But in 2009, talking on the phone was more important to that woman than common courtesy for the cashier and the people in line behind her. My aunt, who called herself "the self-appointed phone etiquette police," told the woman to go outside and finish talking or hang up and order. The woman hung up - reluctantly.

Episodes like that are why many of us have a love/hate relationship with technology. It's not the technology itself we despise, it's the intrusion. When technology works smoothly, we love it. When it malfunctions or annoys us, we hate it.

If your car breaks down on the highway, what would you rather have: A couple of quarters and a hike to the nearest payphone, assuming you can find one, or a cell phone in your pocket?

And we all love our television. Talk about spage-aged technology. For "Jonny Quest," the computer in my satellite box took a signal from space, recorded it on a metal disc and saved it for me to watch at my leisure - along with 100 other shows that I tape just because I can, 95 of which I will never watch. And of the five I do try to watch, two will have lost signals at some point, one will cut off before the end and one will be the wrong show altogether.

Aunt Cathy's story came to me in an e-mail, along with a video of the new commercial my Granny is in. Twenty years ago, I would have had to wait for a letter and a videotape. Thirty years ago, I would have had to go to Mississippi and wait for the commercial to come on TV.

But that same e-mail technology also tries to sell me Viagra and scam me out of my life savings every day, and thus the cycle of help and hindrance goes on.

Maybe the solution for our technological love/hate ordeal is moderation. Use technology sparingly. And when it becomes annoying, follow Aunt Cathy's lead:

"Go home, sit in (the) garden and smell the roses."

E-mail Nate McCullough at nate.mccullough@gwinnettdailypost.com. His column appears on Fridays.