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Mr. Fix-it is always excited for new tech

Opposite the living room couch sits a bulky, black-and-white TV.

By 1970 standards, this mid-priced console was clearly selected for its faux wood veneer that meshes well with the other furniture in the room.

We get four channels — ABC, CBS, NBC, PBS — delivered through the air, captured by the rabbit-ear antenna. Those two metal rods sticking out from the back of the set are now wrapped in tin foil to improve the reception.

There’s no remote control, and the channel knob broke off months ago. We now switch stations with a tool aptly called “channel locks,” gripping what’s left of the worn metal dial.

It’s Sunday, Sept. 17, 1978. We’re watching the television debut of King Kong, starring Jessica Lange and Jeff Bridges. Mom, Dad and baby brother are on the couch. My sister and I are on the floor, as close as we could be to the TV without being told to back away — you know, for fear of going blind.

I’m 7 years old. My sister is 6. This is a special night because A) we’re up late on a school night and B) we’re all together in the same room watching a movie that’s too exciting, too scary and too romantic — the kind of stuff that made kids our age feel like grown-ups.

Fast-forward 40-plus years and I’ve officially, and reluctantly, grown up.

Most days I still want to be that skinny, buck-toothed kid sitting cross-legged on the ratty shag carpet watching something too “adult” for my little kid eyes. Instead, I’m the dad on the couch telling my kids to back away from the TV (or computer, or phone).

I’ve also been relegated to the role of Mr. Fix-it.

“Dad, the TV’s broken” or “Dad, the WiFi isn’t working” or “Dad, I can’t get on Netflix” or “Dad, I need batteries for the PlayStation controller.”

Channel locks and tin foil won’t fix these problems. Google searches and YouTube videos help when I’m stumped. Occasional calls to a help desk don’t seem to “help.” Visits to the Geek Squad are considered “last resort.”

If I’m being honest, I don’t mind fixing some of these problems. Like other tech-enthusiasts and critics, I’m excited for what technology offers (or might offer) our families and friends, our schools and communities, our media and businesses.

We rely on it to help our kids with schoolwork. We use it to navigate our way through unfamiliar locations. We shop with it. We bank with it. With manage our health with it. We use it to distract us from “other” life problems — if even for a few minutes.

Last night, I used it to look at pictures of puppies, to listen to a favorite radio station and to grade student homework. Today, I’m using it to write this column (and if I’m being honest, to look up the date that NBC aired that King Kong movie).

I confess. Having more technology than we did as kids has not always made our lives easier. But it’s certainly made life interesting.

Like the kid sitting in front of the TV watching a thrilling movie, I still get excited about the promise of technology, even if it means figuring out how to make it work when it breaks.

Dr. Adam Earnheardt is chair of the department of communication at Youngstown State University. Follow him on Twitter at @adamearn and on his blog at www.adamearn.com.