High Tech, High Touch


Here is an interesting and important idea about technology that is discussed by David Thornburg in his book The new basics: Education and the future of the telematic age: the phrase “high tech, high touch”. First coined by John Naisbitt in 1982, the phrase can be defined as

embracing technology that preserves our humanness and rejecting technology that intrudes upon it.

In essence, it means that many technologies meant to free us from mundane tasks (or replace us) can actually do the exact opposite, i.e. sometimes the technology can actually enslave us. Thornburg’s description of customer service “hold hell” is a perfect example, as is this post by Kelly Goto, appropriately called “cell withdrawal”, about our dependency on mobile devices such as cell phones and iPods.

Instead, “high tech, high touch” means that people should find a balance between high-tech skills and high touch skills of life, the latter being activities that keep us healthy, creative, and energized.

I’ve been thinking about issues related to this quite a bit lately, especially after listening to some of the presentations at GSCET in Shanghai. I think part of the problem in educational technology is that as educators, technology coordinators, administrators, and researchers, we often feel that we have to jump on the latest bandwagon in order to be successful, even though we don’t necessarily have the pedagogical rationale for it. Examples over the past couple of years include mobile devices, anything wireless, podcasting, blogging, wikis, and RSS. While they are all great tools with plenty of potential, I think that the downfall of technology in learning environments is often caused by:

  • using technology for the sake of technology

  • jumping from one tool to the next without giving the former a chance

  • using too much technology

  • using not enough technology

  • fear of technology (the most recent examples being MySpace and cell phones)


I know that personally I spend way too much time at work and at home exploring new and innovative digital tools, and probably not enough on the so-called “high touch” skills. However, I’ve noticed that when I strike a pretty decent balance between the two, I tend to be more productive in both high tech and high touch.

What does this mean for education? I think that we need to take a step back from time to time to see what we are actually doing with technology in education, and if what we are doing is warranted from curricular and pedagogical points of view. So many times we introduce new technologies in society simply because we can, and our students tend to jump right in. This were a lot of the fear and panic among educators and administrators stems from. While some of their fears are warranted, a more balanced approach to introducing technologies may work better.

What is a balanced approach? This is a difficult question to answer, because new technologies are appearing more rapidly almost daily, and our students are not waiting for us to start using them. However, while students tend to go the more “high tech” route in this context, maybe as educators we can provide them with the “high touch”, showing students that no matter what the tool is, there are always people behind them, hence the need to learn how to use technology in responsible, ethical, and safe ways. Balance is good….

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