High Tech, High Touch

Drama Internet Culture New York City Publishing Technology
Back in 1982, a business book called Megatrends by John Naisbitt made a big splash. The most memorable phrase in this study of future trends was "high tech, high touch", describing a product style or marketing approach that combines technical wizardry with heightened emotional appeal. The idea was that the cold touch of technology innovation can be balanced by a compensating increase in interpersonal intimacy and connectivity. This was some pretty nifty trend-spotting, because the year was 1982 and Naisbitt had just described the birth of the popular internet, still over a decade in the future.

I was thinking about "high tech, high touch" recently when I spent a weekend with my brother and our kids gathered around an amazing new gadget called Wii Fit. You know I'm no gadget-head, and I generally hate video games, but Wii Fit impressed the hell out of me. Perhaps the most appealing thing about it, as with many Wii games, is the deep integration of detailed personal avatars that are designed to realistically look like each player. With my brother and all the kids around, we were able to turn Wii Fit into not only a personal exercise/physical challenge game but a group exercise/physical challenge game, all of it taking place on a television in real time. Or was it taking place in the room? Or both?

That type of integration, as Mr. Naisbitt would now remind you, is called "high tech, high touch".

2. I was also recently thinking about "high tech, high touch" because a surprising number of LitKicks loudmouths commenters disagreed with me on a recent post about electronic books. I wrote that most readers would rather read books on high-end versions of the electronic devices they already carry (iPhones, Blackberrys, video players) than blow three or four hundred bucks on a Sony Reader or an Amazon Kindle. It seems that I'm alone in this opinion.

Well, this may shock you all, but I insist that I'm correct. For one thing, I notice that none of these enthusiasts actually own a Kindle or a Sony Reader. That says a lot about how the business is growing. All talk, no sales. Do you own a Kindle?

Electronic books will be a success. This is an absolute certainty. That doesn't mean E-books will replace or crowd out physical books, which will hopefully continue to exist forever. But there's a simple reason why I want to read a book on my phone. Because there's a phone in my pocket and I want to read a book. Make it easy for me. And if it's a good book, I'll forget about the fact that I'm reading it on my phone very quickly, because I will hopefully be engaged in the plot. That's what reading is about.

Those who wish to build businesses around E-books must remember to keep the barrier to customer entry low. I've written this before on similar business issues, and the same logic applies to electronic books. Readers will embrace the new format once it's made easily accessible and affordable to them. Why wouldn't they? It's a no-brainer, really.

Gimmicky E-book products like this one, which lets you simulate the "page turning experience" with an E-book reader, are absolutely laughable. This is the E-book equivalent of spray can leather scent for new cars. Maybe it will make a few odd people happy, but it has nothing to do with the future.

What else can E-book promoters do to get more traction with readers? Simple: high tech, high touch.

3. Tim W. Brown replies to an 18-month rejection slip: "When you say that my work doesn’t "suit our needs at this time," does that mean in 2006 or 2008?"

4. Sam Shepard's got a new play. It's good to see him out and about in New York.

5. Yeah, I'm still unpacked, I'm still a little crazed and I'm still very happy. Thanks for the nice wishes on the upcoming wedding, everybody ... one more short post tomorrow and then I'm closing up this lollipop stand for a couple of weeks. We'll be back in mid-July. Action poets, get your poems in quick ...
11 Responses to "High Tech, High Touch"

Caryn, Levi…

There have been dark murmurings on the blogosphere regarding the plans of one Jay ‘jota’ Mejia to run naked through your wedding ceremony in a misguided attempt to honor the spirit of Allan Ginsberg.

I know that such a debacle seems unlikely, but have you read the man’s poetry? Jota’s verse evinces a rare spark between genius and insanity that might fit comfortably in an absinthe bar but which could prove quite disturbing to your sunny celebration.

I’m not one to badger blog administrators with silly, self-serving trivia, so it is with great reluctance that I sound the clarion.

by Dan on

My wife has a Sony Ebook (eBook?) - she loves it. I prefer real books. The screens on the other devices are just too damned small for me to be interested.

I never go anywhere without a book (or three), solving *that* problem!

by Cal Godot on

I agree with Asher: ebook functionality on cellular phones is preferable to ebooks *only* on dedicated ebook devices. The Kindle and Sony eBook are perhaps neat in a kind of Star Trek-y kind of way - being able to house an entire reference library on a Kindle/Librie intrigues me. But for casual reading, I'd rather use the expensive gadget I already own, rather than purchase an even more expensive gadget - and one that doesn't fit in my pocket at that.

Can you do ebooks on an iPhone? If not, with the opening of the platform to other developers, it's likely we'll see an iPhone ebook reader in the future. That's the only phone which have the screen-size to be useful, imho. I don't own one, but once they become ebook readers, there's one more reason to do so!

I'm thinking maybe the iPhone is big enough. I assume they make the font a decent size for an old goat like me.

As for reading a book on my phone, I don't like doing anything but texting or talking because of the fees and small screen.
The upcoming generation's eyes will be conditioned for the small screen. I couldn't have imagined reading Murakami's After Dark on a phone. It is so easy to hold the paperback and no need to scroll if I want to re-read an earlier passage. It is also easy to underline phrases.
With books available to read on the phone, authors will have to write prose that flows and have beginnings that hook the reader from the first sentence.
Good luck on the nuptials, both the pre- and post-!

Good luck with the nuptials, as well as the pre- and post- ones!

by TKG on

___I wrote that most readers would rather read books on high-end versions of the electronic devices they already carry (iPhones, Blackberrys, video players) than blow three or four hundred bucks on a Sony Reader or an Amazon Kindle. It seems that I'm alone in this opinion. ____

I agreed with you 100% on this.

My comment was on using electronic format vs book format in general.

Gotcha, TKG -- you know I'm just funning with you all about the "loudmouths" remark, right?

Now that I know you agree with me, now I think we're BOTH right.

by jay mejia on

Dear Levi and Caryn, I wish you all the best on your star spangled wedding. Count on this: I will not be running naked as bill ectric libeled me. Maybe except in my smiling head.

Take a break! You kids deserve it!

But watch out for the 26 dancing jotas! You'll see them when you see them.

Thanks for putting up with all of us and for this great, fantastic gathering place.

Mazal Tov!!!

by Brad V. on

I totally agree with you about ebooks! I own both a Sony Reader and an iPhone, and guess what I do most of my reading on? I always have my iPhone with me anyway and found it's perfect for reading! Don't get me wrong, I love my Sony Reader, but it's just one more device to carry around.

However, I also feel there is a lot of room for improvement in all devices (iPhone or otherwise) and especially formatting. There are so many ebook formats out there, it's easy to get "locked" into one.

Great post, keep up the good work!

Thanks, everybody (from me and Caryn) for the really nice best wishes! See you all later in July ...