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Geek Heresy: Rescuing Social Change from the Cult of Technology

Author: Kentaro Toyama
Published Date: 26 May 2015

In 2004, Kentaro Toyama, an award-winning computer scientist, moved to India to start a new research group for Microsoft. Its mission: to explore novel technological solutions to the world’s persistent social problems. Together with his team, he invented electronic devices for under-resourced urban schools and developed digital platforms for remote agrarian communities. But after a decade of designing technologies for humanitarian causes, Toyama concluded that no technology, however dazzling, could cause social change on its own.


Technologists and policy-makers love to boast about modern innovation, and in their excitement, they exuberantly tout technology’s boon to society. But what have our gadgets actually accomplished? Over the last four decades, America saw an explosion of new technologies – from the Internet to the iPhone, from Google to Facebook – but in that same period, the rate of poverty stagnated at a stubborn 13%, only to rise in the recent recession. So, a golden age of innovation in the world’s most advanced country did nothing for our most prominent social ill.


Toyama’s warning resounds: Don’t believe the hype! Technology is never the main driver of social progress. Geek Heresy inoculates us against the glib rhetoric of tech utopians by revealing that technology is only an amplifier of human conditions. By telling the moving stories of extraordinary people like Patrick Awuah, a Microsoft millionaire who left his lucrative engineering job to open Ghana’s first liberal arts university, and Tara Sreenivasa, a graduate of a remarkable South Indian school that takes children from dollar-a-day families into the high-tech offices of Goldman Sachs and Mercedes-Benz, Toyama shows that even in a world steeped in technology, social challenges are best met with deeply social solutions.


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 just 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 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, Rescuing Social Change from the Cult of Technology, 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 children from dollar-a-day families 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.

Order the book and find out more here.