digital and social media | August 30, 2015

Geek Heretic: Kentaro Toyama Talks Technology in The Guardian

In “Blinded by technology: has our belief in Silicon Valley led the world astray?”, The Guardian speaks to MIT fellow Kentaro Toyama about his recent book Geek Heresy: Rescuing Social Change from the Cult of Technology. This compelling interview captures Toyama’s journey from tech ambassador to tech heretic, and how he realized that far from the “ultimate salvation for civilization,” technology “is secondary—ultimately the people and the institutions matter the most.”

In 2004, Toyama oversaw dozens of projects in India to alleviate poverty. Then a Microsoft programmer and computer scientist, he came to the unexpected conclusion that digital solutions weren’t enough. He tells The Guardian that “we found that it didn’t make a difference how good the technology was; other factors prevented positive impact.” The straightforward takeaway? Throwing technology at impoverished people can’t solve deeper social problems—despite what’s believed by tech evangelists or the World Bank. Changes are required at the institutional, governmental, and corporate level—in other words, reforms involving human beings—and no amount of laptops or gadgets can create mass social progress. “It’s not the tools that we use that define us,” Toyama says, “it’s the underlying capacities.”

Toyama’s bracing message throughout Geek Heresy is that human wisdom must be our most prized commodity. He speaks on problems that require purely human solutions, like instilling accountability in multinational corporations. He criticizes the prevailing myth that sharing technology with children will mean they’ll understand how to use it (“Simply having screen time is not equivalent to a real education”). And he makes a powerful case for transforming a host of conventional perspectives on education, technology, and innovation:

… what really makes Silicon Valley work is not that they use technology, but that they’re highly talented, highly motivated people who are constantly thinking about being entrepreneurs. It’s that human side that is resulting in them producing technology that the rest of the world wants. You know, if you could bottle the talent, and the entrepreneurial driver, and spread that around, I think that would have some value in the developing world (The Guardian).

A heretic among technologists, Kentaro Toyama is uniquely able to reveal why social progress depends on human changes that gadgets just can’t deliver. In his keynote speeches, he provides a fierce critique and a heartwarming reminder that it’s human wisdom, not machines, that move our world forward. To book Kentaro Toyama for your next event, contact The Lavin Agency speakers bureau.

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