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Column - Miracles of technology

It's a strange world we're living in: Modern technology is improving our lives and giving us opportunities we never even dreamed of before. Yet, at the same time, it's obvious that things are progressing faster than we know how to deal with them.

The first warning signs came about 10 years ago - before Y2K - when the threat of a computer shutdown had many believing that a catastrophe was inevitable. Yet, when nothing happened, we all let out a sigh of relief and went full-speed down the technological highway again. Since then, we've only picked up more speed and become even more dependent and addicted to the wondrous miracles of technology.

The warning signs are all around us that we've gone too far, too fast - that our inventions are taking over our lives and enslaving us rather than serving us.

Take a look around and you'll see people everywhere who are addicted to technology. In addition to the people who have a cell phone glued to their ear, we now have people with electronic gizmos attached to their head like some kind of cyborg, as well as a generation of teenagers who believe that if they're awake, they should be texting.

But, it's not just the teens and young adults who are addicted: Children live in a make-believe world created by computer games; adults spend their time posting online about all the boring details of their lives for strangers to read; and despite its having been around for more than 50 years, people of all ages still haven't learned how to live in the real world, preferring instead to watch it on TV.

Every time a new technology emerges, we see a new group of people who latch on to this new "drug" and let it consume their life. And just like a chemical addiction, technology addictions can be very hard to break. The anguish of losing a cell phone, for many teens, could be comparable to a death in the family.

Although I don't understand how people get so addicted to these "drugs," I do understand the seduction of them. I've been there myself, many times: I'll start fiddling with something on the computer, and before I know it several hours have passed doing things that can only be described as insignificant and meaningless.

Yet I keep going back, just like a drug addict, despite the fact that I know there are better things I could be doing.

What is it about technology that has the power to turn us all into glassy-eyed, mindless slaves?

Arthur C. Clarke said that "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." Perhaps that explains our fascination with technology and electronic gismos: When we use them, we feel like we are performing miracles and doing the impossible.

It's simply amazing that we can now find just about any kind of information online in an instant, including old friends and long-lost relatives. It's incredible that we can now call or e-mail just about anyone from almost anywhere on earth. It's astounding that we can now hold thousands of photos in a chip smaller than a quarter, or have tens-of-thousands of songs available in a box smaller than a candy bar. It's mind boggling how we can find our location and receive turn-by-turn instructions from anywhere on the globe.

But, it's also shocking to see how these technologies have negatively affected some people. We now have people who are afraid of going anywhere without a cell phone, who spend whole days mesmerized by computer screens, and who can't fish without $10,000 worth of electronics and other equipment.

What we all need to grasp is the idea that all these gadgets are simply tools. They're great for performing limited tasks, but not so great at running your life - and just like any tool, they can be misused.

Living with technology is a balancing act that many of us have yet to master. There's a lot of truth in the saying that we are on the path of going nowhere fast - and that technology is taking us there even faster. Although there's no doubt that technology can do wonderful things and make life a lot easier, it can also make it much more complicated and meaningless.

The key is to slow down and learn how to use technology as a tool rather than as a toy - or maybe to even do without it occasionally.

Too bad we don't have an "ap for that."