Instructional Technology: Approach with (Healthy) Caution

*Image from under CC0.

In his insightful speech to a 1998 world on the cusp of the explosion of the Tech Age, American philosopher Neil Postman presented his five basic ideas on the concept of technological change. Even though his talk is now nearly 20 years old, his ideas (warnings, really) still ring true for us who lead the charge of integrating technology into all areas of the curriculum.

  1. “For every advantage a new technology offers, there is always a corresponding disadvantage. [We are good about asking the question:] What will a new technology do? The more important question is to ask: what will a new technology undo?”
  2. “There is inequity in the distribution of advantages and disadvantages of a new technology resource. A new tool will be available to and provide advantages for some, while simultaneously it takes something away from others.”
  3. “Every technology has a prejudice. It predisposes us to favor and value certain perspectives.”
  4. “Technology is not additive; it is ecological. The consequences of technological change are always vast, often unpredictable, and largely irreversible.”
  5. “Technology tends to become mythic. When a technology becomes mythic, it is always dangerous because it is then accepted as it is, and therefore not easily susceptible to modification or control. Its capacity for good or evil rests entirely on human awareness of what it does for us and to us.”

Regarding Postman’s five points, the first and last are (to me) the most core-shifting as I analyze my own personal approach to instructional technology. His first point is that “for every disadvantage a new technology offers, there is always a corresponding disadvantage” (pg. 1). As an avid leader and regular practitioner of instructional technology, I needed this reminder to hit the brakes and truly analyze all benefits AND drawbacks of a new technology resource before selecting it for use. One example of this might be to reflect back several years ago when Google first launched the collaborative capabilities of Docs, Slides, Sheets, etc. Suddenly people could work together on a project from multiple locations and intervals. Collaboration was no longer bound by space or time, which was and remains a huge advantage. The disadvantage, however, was that although this new technology resource enabled people to collaborate more conveniently, it also eliminated the need for the dialogue and compromise skills that are learned through face-to-face teamwork experiences. Postman’s words challenge us to look for the exchange and to make sure it is worth it before embracing a new tech resource.

The fifth idea Postman presented was similar to the first in that he cautioned people to question the capacity of technology. “When a technology becomes mythic, it is always dangerous because it is then accepted as it is, and therefore not easily susceptible to modification or control” (pg. 5). Postman made the excellent point in reminding his audience to question, consider, challenge, and think carefully about how new technology is designed and how it can be most useful to suit our specific educational needs. Becoming blind or thoughtless receptacles of every new piece of tech or resource that is created is both unwise and dangerous. Postman ended with a reminder that we should use our human insight and strengths to make sure that we are the ones using technology rather than the other way around (pg. 5).

If you are like me and interested in more of Postman’s thoughts on teaching and technology and their collision with culture, here are a few resources to help you read more about his thoughts:

  • The End of Education: Redefining the Value of School. New York: Knopf, 1995
  • Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology. New York: Vintage Books, 1993
  • Conscientous Objection: Stirring Up Trouble about Language, Technology, and Education. New York: Vintage Books, 1992
  • Teaching as a Subversive Activity. New York: Delta Book Publishing, 1971


Author: Michelle Wilson

With 16 year of experience as a school librarian, Michelle has served students and teachers at the elementary, middle, and high school levels. She is a past President of Alabama School Library Association, has served as Region V Director for AASL, and currently chairs the Alabama Virtual Library Executive Council. A National Board Certified Teacher, adjunct professor for the University of Alabama’s School of Library and Information Studies, and graduate student pursuing a PhD in Instructional Leadership/Technology, she is always eager to discover and share the latest trends in school librarianship. Michelle is very passionate about her work as a school librarian at Helena High School in the Birmingham, Alabama area.

Categories: Blog Topics, Technology

1 reply

  1. Michelle,

    Thank you for this timely, significant reminder of both what technology offers us and our students and what we must step back and consider as well. As the tsunami of technology reaches greater and greater heights, teacher-librarians as technology educators must remember to instill in our students the need to step away, to ponder screenlessly, and to look up!

    Christie Kaaland

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