Geek Heresy: Rescuing Social Change from the Cult of Technology

Geek Heresy: Rescuing Social Change from the Cult of Technology

by Kentaro Toyama

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After a decade designing technologies meant to address education, health, and global poverty, award-winning computer scientist Kentaro Toyama came to a difficult conclusion: Even in an age of amazing technology, social progress depends on human changes that gadgets can't deliver.

Computers in Bangalore are locked away in dusty cabinets because teachers don't know what to do with them. Mobile phone apps meant to spread hygiene practices in Africa fail to improve health. Executives in Silicon Valley evangelize novel technologies at work even as they send their children to Waldorf schools that ban electronics. And four decades of incredible innovation in America have done nothing to turn the tide of rising poverty and inequality. Why then do we keep hoping that technology will solve our greatest social ills?

In this incisive book, Toyama cures us of the manic rhetoric of digital utopians and reinvigorates us with a deeply people-centric view of social change. Contrasting the outlandish claims of tech zealots with stories of people like Patrick Awuah, a Microsoft millionaire who left his engineering job to open Ghana's first liberal arts university, and Tara Sreenivasa, a graduate of a remarkable South Indian school that takes impoverished children into the high-tech offices of Goldman Sachs and Mercedes-Benz, Geek Heresy is a heartwarming reminder that it's human wisdom, not machines, that move our world forward.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

Toyama lays down eloquently his bone of contention that technology merely amplifies the human condition.” —New Indian Express

“Toyama's research reminds us that there are very few one-size-fits-all solutions. If technology is going to improve the lives of the world's poorest, it must be grounded in a deep understanding of human behavior and an appreciation for cultural differences.” —Bill Gates, co-founder of Microsoft and co-chair of The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation

“Read this book! With engaging stories and penetrating insight, Toyama reveals that even the most powerful technologies can't cure our social ills, and he inspires us toward a more deeply human kind of progress.”—Ben Mezrich, author of Accidental Billionaires

“Controversial yet inspiring…Geek Heresy is a must read for anyone who is passionate about social change…Everyone from field staff and managers to researchers and funders will benefit from his unique perspective; geeks and non-geeks, alike. Finally, we have a book that can help temper our technology addiction with an approach guided by critical thought and practical application.”—Global South Development Magazine-

Winner of the 2016 PROSE Award in Business, Finance & Management

“It is notable…when a techie insider steps outside the tent to chastise his tribe at book length — and has the gall to both criticize and dedicate the book to his former boss, Bill Gates. Kentaro Toyama, a computer scientist who once ran a lab for Microsoft Research, seems determined to burn his bridge to the technology world with Geek Heresy: Rescuing Social Change from the Cult of Technology... The book takes a spike-studded tire iron to the efforts by technology entrepreneurs and their enablers to reimagine how we eat, learn, heal, govern and battle poverty.”—Anand Giridharadas, New York Times

“In this incisive book, Toyama cures us of the manic rhetoric of digital utopians and reinvigorates us with a deeply people-centric view of social change. …Geek Heresy is a heartwarming reminder that it's human wisdom, not machines, that move our world forward.” —National Geographic Online

“Everyone working in any facet of education and educational nonprofits needs to read Geek Heresy: Rescuing Social Change From the Cult of Technology; put down whatever other books you're reading—you are reading, right?—and get a copy of this one.” —Seliger & Associates-

Library Journal

Toyama (W. K. Kellogg Associate Professor, Univ. of Michigan Sch. of Information; fellow, Dalai Lama Ctr. for Ethics and Transformative Values, MIT) takes a critical look at the use of information and communication technologies to foster global development. He posits that technology usually only amplifies existing conditions and disparities and can easily be trumped by a lack of basic infrastructure and human factors such as psychology and social or political systems. These latter factors critical to successful development he summarizes as good intention, discernment, and self-control, which collectively he terms intrinsic growth. Examples are presented from his experience in India and Ghana, as well as other developing nations to show how mind, spirit, and will are the essential determinants of social progress on micro and macro levels. His suggested remedy is mentorship programs (personal, institutional, and even national) that focus on identifying and fostering mentees' goals and connecting them with appropriate solutions. Ultimately, the author explains that developing societies aren't problems looking for prepackaged technological answers, but opportunities to nurture aspiration—a goal not relegated to so-called underdeveloped nations. VERDICT Recommended for anyone with an interest in effective global development initiatives (not necessarily technology-driven ones), from policymakers and not-for-profit and educational workers to donors and supporters.—Wade M. Lee, Univ. of Toledo Lib.

Kirkus Reviews

A well-meaning but arid argument, by a former Microsoft executive and current MIT fellow, against the presumed Trojan horses of technology. Issuing an affordable laptop to every school kid will save the developing world, right? Well, probably not—and not even Nicholas Negroponte would say so. The argument Toyama advances contains or at least implies such straw men, for of course there are many other considerations: are skilled teachers available? Is learning valued at home? Will the girls of the village be allowed to learn how to work a spreadsheet, or will they be forbidden from doing so because, as Toyama cites in one case, such knowledge will drive up their dowry prices? Throwing technology at problems that are fundamentally social and cultural in nature, argues the author, will likely prove ineffectual; he coins a "Law of Amplification" to that end, namely, that "technology's primary effect is to amplify human forces." Marshall McLuhan said much the same thing half a century ago. Toyama makes some good and perceptive points along the way, observing that if the same technology, for instance, can be used for both entertainment and education, people will choose entertainment every time and that technology often leads us to invent needs that we didn't know we had ("Few people imagined before 1979 that they would want to live in their very own cocoons of music"). He is also correct to note that the proper goal of economic development is to develop not consumers but producers, even if many First World technologies seek only the former ("modern global civilization seems stuck in a form of self-actualization marked by consumption and personal achievement")—and that meaningful education and social development are both expensive and require plenty of follow-up, something that one-laptop schemes underemphasize. A white paper largely of interest to education theorists and aid specialists, with occasional asides for the Jaron Lanier/Nicholas Carr crowd.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781610395298
Publisher: PublicAffairs
Publication date: 05/26/2015
Sold by: Hachette Digital, Inc.
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 352
File size: 838 KB

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