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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 d 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.


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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 d 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.

30 review for Geek Heresy: Rescuing Social Change from the Cult of Technology

  1. 5 out of 5

    Stephany Wilkes

    I love a good debunking and Toyama delivers. Toyama is to techno utopia what Gary Taubes has been to the low-fat diet. Just as Gary Taubes has presented reams of evidence and conducted repeated, thorough debunkings of "fat makes us a fat" and "a calorie is a calorie," Toyama debunks the unsubstantiated claims that spreading devices and Internet connectivity around causes positive social change. It doesn't. Stop saying it does. I worked in software development for 20 years, have advanced degrees i I love a good debunking and Toyama delivers. Toyama is to techno utopia what Gary Taubes has been to the low-fat diet. Just as Gary Taubes has presented reams of evidence and conducted repeated, thorough debunkings of "fat makes us a fat" and "a calorie is a calorie," Toyama debunks the unsubstantiated claims that spreading devices and Internet connectivity around causes positive social change. It doesn't. Stop saying it does. I worked in software development for 20 years, have advanced degrees in my field, and currently live in the techno-libertarian land of the San Francisco Bay Area. Every time I hear about some effort to flood a school with iPads or teach PowerPoint (which perpetuates a cognitive style I wouldn't want any child to have), I wince. Knowing how to use Facebook is not at all like knowing how to write a single line of code. Being able to click buttons does not, cognitively, predispose a child to better algorithm design skills. I found Toyama's voice a refreshing contrast to the usual, unsubstantiated prattle of "change the world" found in every pitch deck and start-up mission statement, but am especially grateful for all of the research he cites to tell a substantiated story. The one thing I did not get from the book (not that it had an obligation to deliver this) is an understanding of where the techno-utopian rhetoric comes from, and why technologists specifically seem so prone to self-aggrandizing and self-congratulatory behavior based on zero evidence, which they'd never accept in another context like a bug report or unit test. I don't hear the same rhetoric from people in other fields. My attorney, teacher, NGO, doctor, and scientist friends who do not work in tech don't go around hollering that they're changing the world and that everything they do is implicitly wonderful. I remain curious about its origins.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Athan Tolis

    Much as Kentaro’s amazing book is a “bait and switch,” it was well worth the read. The promise, as perceived by me at any rate, was that one of the smartest people I know would walk me through his Damascene conversion from leading computer scientist and engineer to doubter. The first half of the book delivers on this and provides an alternative to the standard theory of technology evangelists who only see benefits, namely that tech merely amplifies: Once you get the machines involved, whatever wa Much as Kentaro’s amazing book is a “bait and switch,” it was well worth the read. The promise, as perceived by me at any rate, was that one of the smartest people I know would walk me through his Damascene conversion from leading computer scientist and engineer to doubter. The first half of the book delivers on this and provides an alternative to the standard theory of technology evangelists who only see benefits, namely that tech merely amplifies: Once you get the machines involved, whatever was going on before gets turbocharged; it does not necessarily get better. So an iPad in the hands of my diligent daughter will be a tool to learn more, provided I’m there to guide her. And an iPad in the hands of my Minecraft-crazed son is like buying a drink for a drunk friend, especially if I’m not there to enforce limits on his screen time. Summed over my two kids there are no great effects, but in terms of the spread of outcomes I’m looking at much more pronounced extremes. (Yes, I know, I’m not presenting this too well; buy the book, Kentaro does!) And same way neither the radio, nor television really transformed education, for example, we should not have high hopes for the Internet or cheap laptops either. It’s good teachers that we will always need: humans who will motivate the young to learn and achieve. So all that gets you to page 100 out of 218 and at that point you’re done with the discussion about geeks, technology etc. because the book never really was about technology. This is a book about how to make the world a better place! In particular, we follow Kentaro from his high-flying job as an image recognition and face recognition engineer with Microsoft to his travels in India, where his aim became to use technology in a way that would aid Indian development in education, healthcare, self-sufficiency, agriculture, women’s emancipation etc. Viewed from the angle of Part 2 of Geek Heresy, throwing tech at a problem is an example of a “packaged intervention” and is thus never going to get to the root of a problem. “Packaged interventions,” from vaccine programs, mosquito nets, laptops and microfinance, all the way to free elections in a country that has not had them before, can only be of lasting benefit if they are introduced at the right time and in fertile ground as part of a package by locally embedded teams of teachers, mentors and dedicated professionals whose focus must be to help the locals understand, formulate and work toward attaining their own aspirations for their lives. Not ours! It’s not so much material resource that’s missing in our world, as much as it’s dedicated and knowledgeable professionals who will apply their time toward understanding where the needs of the people we are trying to help stand in the “hierarchy of needs.” Once their aspirations have been identified and formulated, our interventions should be all about providing them with the means to deploy their own heart, mind and will toward achieving these goals. Only in that context should we reach into our quiver for technologies, know-how and “packaged solutions.” The message of the book is a positive message: not only are billions of people across the planet moving on from the basic needs for food and shelter, but people at the very top of the pyramid are moving toward the noble need to help others do better, and (despite the financial crisis and its aftermath) this is happening at a pace never seen before in history. Jeff Sachs once tried to write this kind of a book, where you pivot from your area of expertise to applying this expertise toward the greater good. It was called “the Price of Civilization” and to my eyes it was a failure. Kentaro, on the other hand, has pulled it off. WOW! So I’ll close with a couple pedantic comments: it’s hedone and meden agan, not hedonia (p. 90) and medem agan (p. 94). Such a tremendous book, you know where I live, you know I’m Greek, next time you write a book, send the Greek stuff through, dude. Ah, that’s the other thing. Kentaro is 46, but this book is written very much in the style of the very last book an author will ever write. I REALLY hope I’m wrong about that. I genuinely enjoyed Geek Heresy.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Larry Bassett

    This is a book filled with information. And the last 40% of the book in the Kindle edition is notes that are of course not read in the audible version. The one sentence summary of the book is that to effectively create social change we need to work on making better people. Technology alone will not make a better world. Or better people.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Alexis

    Toyama takes aim at the popular idea of technological utopianism--that technology, often in the form of prepackaged interventions, will solve problems (particularly in education). Instead, he argues, technology is only a tool that is shaped by its users and amplifies what is already happening. Loses a star for being a little too brief and slapdash, but the central thesis is convincing. Politicians who believe the solution is iPads and blended learning should read this.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Jonathan Cook

    I know that the use of stories in non-fiction is encouraged by editors these days, but I thought this book relied too much on narratives of individuals. All the examples of individual experiences got in the way of the bigger picture, rather than making it clear. The concept of technology as an amplifier is worth paying attention to, but that's made clear in the first third of the book. The rest just isn't necessary. I know that the use of stories in non-fiction is encouraged by editors these days, but I thought this book relied too much on narratives of individuals. All the examples of individual experiences got in the way of the bigger picture, rather than making it clear. The concept of technology as an amplifier is worth paying attention to, but that's made clear in the first third of the book. The rest just isn't necessary.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Vi

    Disclaimer: I love this book in large part because it confirmed a nagging feeling that I have always had but that became even more prominent as I inserted myself in the world of technology by becoming a coder. Toyama writes a compelling, if slightly wordy (which he acknowledges at the end in a good-natured tone), argument against believing and using packaged (technological) interventions as panacea for all social ills. While the conclusion seems so obvious once the reader weaves through his stori Disclaimer: I love this book in large part because it confirmed a nagging feeling that I have always had but that became even more prominent as I inserted myself in the world of technology by becoming a coder. Toyama writes a compelling, if slightly wordy (which he acknowledges at the end in a good-natured tone), argument against believing and using packaged (technological) interventions as panacea for all social ills. While the conclusion seems so obvious once the reader weaves through his stories, in practice, as a collective group, we miss the point day after day. As I consider my next steps in life, I intuit that Geek Heresy will continually show its impact on me.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Greg Williams

    This book is basically an argument against "technological utopianism" from a guy who used to be a "technological utopian". In other words, after trying to effect social change via technology solutions as part of his research, he basically discovered that you can't bring about social change by dropping technological solutions into the situation. While a pilot project may seem to work, you won't be able to get the same results as you scale it out. One example of this is the attempt to transform ed This book is basically an argument against "technological utopianism" from a guy who used to be a "technological utopian". In other words, after trying to effect social change via technology solutions as part of his research, he basically discovered that you can't bring about social change by dropping technological solutions into the situation. While a pilot project may seem to work, you won't be able to get the same results as you scale it out. One example of this is the attempt to transform education by making computers available to the students (e.g. One Laptop Per Child). The problem is the human side of the equation. While the availability of computers and the Internet provide all sorts of educational resources, that won't really help if the teachers don't understand how to incorporate them into the curriculum or if the students aren't motivated to learn. The core premise of this book is that "technology's primary effect is to amplify human forces. . . . In other words, what people get out of technology depends on what they can do and want to do even without technology." As an amplifier, technology can even widen disparities and inequalities rather than bridge them. The author writes "In general, technology results in positive outcomes only where positive, capable human forces are already in place." Much of this book is examples of this "law of amplification" in action, both amazingly positive examples as well as examples where technology had no effect or made things worse. The second half of the book is devoted to ideas on how to amplify the human forces ("heart, mind, and will") that are need to make technology effective. In the end, any kind of packaged technology is not the solution but just an enabler to the solution. The book ends with a discussion of mentorship as one way to nurture and amplify the people we are trying to help. The author writes "we should see social situations less as problems to be solved and more as people and institutions to be nurtured". As someone who works in the software industry, I found the author's "Tech Commandments" to be spot on with respect to how technology people approach problems. There is an arrogance that we tech people sometimes have toward others, as if we always know best. All in all, I found this book to be well-written. It is heavily footnoted (my Kindle tells me that footnotes comprise almost 50% of the book). This is a very serious book and I got a bit bogged down in it as a result. He basically convinced me of his argument early in the book and so the endless list of examples from personal experience started to wear me out :-) Bottom line: I think this book is an essential read for any tech person who wants to "make the world a better place" via technology.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Daniel Chen

    Overall, this book was a fun and interesting read, though I wish that Toyama would push some of his arguments further. The first half focuses a lot on this 'Law of Amplification', this idea that tech isn't a solution to all our problems (which I agree with), but that it amplifies the social factors at hand. While I think it's an interesting idea, Toyama rather haphazardly slaps this onto a bunch of case studies without really explaining what 'amplification' even means. It seems that in some case Overall, this book was a fun and interesting read, though I wish that Toyama would push some of his arguments further. The first half focuses a lot on this 'Law of Amplification', this idea that tech isn't a solution to all our problems (which I agree with), but that it amplifies the social factors at hand. While I think it's an interesting idea, Toyama rather haphazardly slaps this onto a bunch of case studies without really explaining what 'amplification' even means. It seems that in some cases, it can really build off social forces, others just cause it to flop (such as with education technology), or even detract. Fundamentally, though, I think is really not the notion that technology 'amplifies' - it's that tech is just a tool. 'Amplify' just feels like a multiplier to me, some kind of thing that ignores the nuance of the situation. Sure - tech does amplify things because that's what tools are for - but in the end, we need to realize that it's not so general, that we need the context in order to know how it will affect what we're trying to do. In the end, his 'Law of Amplification' is a cool idea, but one that he pushes too hard for. His writing similarly suffers a bit in the second half when he discusses the notion of 'intrinsic growth' that's required for change. While I agree with the notion that culture and societies need to fundamentally change and have a desire to grow in order to improve, some of the psychology he uses feels kind of slapped on and messy (especially his notion of his hierarchy of needs). Overall, this section raises a point that I agree with, but doesn't really give that great of explanations to support it. I did like his notion on mentorship and intrinsic growth, which makes sense given that he probably understands the power of mentorship better than psychology given that he's a professor in Michigan's School of Information. Overall, though, an interesting read that brought up some cool ideas.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Sowmya

    Quite disappointed. The first part was good. The second part went unnecessarily into more of social psychology which I did not expect in this book. The conclusions section in my opinion failed to effectively summarize the propositions in the book and it seemed to me that the first part was forgotten. I learnt a lot from the first part though. I would recommend this book to anyone who is strongly in favor of technological interventions in education and social issues.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Karthik

    You see a school that is under-resourced and the students are not performing and you decide to donate a computer with internet to the school so that students have information at the tip of their hands. Does your donation help or affect the school? In this book, Kentaro makes a strong case that technology only amplifies what already exists. So, in this case when the students don't know how to productively use a computer, it makes the students worse-off by giving them a new distraction or does not You see a school that is under-resourced and the students are not performing and you decide to donate a computer with internet to the school so that students have information at the tip of their hands. Does your donation help or affect the school? In this book, Kentaro makes a strong case that technology only amplifies what already exists. So, in this case when the students don't know how to productively use a computer, it makes the students worse-off by giving them a new distraction or does not have any effect since the school does not how to use it. Kentaro extends this argument even beyond technologies to explain phenomena like why some democracies fail and why revolutions in Saudi Arabia were not successful when neighboring countries had revolutions during the Arab Spring. In the second half of the book, Kentaro provides an alternative where humans are at the heart of progress. All humans want intrinsic growth and Kentaro makes a case that technologies can be the means to attain the goal of growth in humans. He even goes to the extent of saying that there are already enough technologies, and if you want to make real progress it must be through progress in human heart, mind and will. The role of technology as an amplifying factor provided a fresh perspective on technology for me. I really liked some of his philosophical references about growth, how it is universally desired and mentorship. I also liked his idea of focusing on human progress as the end, but I disagree that there is no need to focus on technology. In my mind, some technologies make it easier to achieve human progress than others do and therefore it is important to continue to innovate and create technologies that support human progress.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Roopesh Kohad

    This book solidified my thinking of technology v/s human spirit or will to do something. The problems are solved by technology when there is human will to solve it and not the other way round. Technology cannot change heart or generate interest to solve problems. The solver will seek relevant technology. However, the mobilization, alignment of interest and create that will at large will have to be done by humans.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Kathleen

    I’ve been reading this book for many months apparently (but if I’d known on my kindle the “end” would be at 48% I might have been less intimidated!). Thanks to Rahul for the recommendation and for my MIL mailing me an article physically cut out of a magazine about the author because she thought it would be up my alley and she went to the same high school in Japan as him for a bit (maybe at different times). Anyway. Technology and prepackaged interventions merely amplify whatever social systems an I’ve been reading this book for many months apparently (but if I’d known on my kindle the “end” would be at 48% I might have been less intimidated!). Thanks to Rahul for the recommendation and for my MIL mailing me an article physically cut out of a magazine about the author because she thought it would be up my alley and she went to the same high school in Japan as him for a bit (maybe at different times). Anyway. Technology and prepackaged interventions merely amplify whatever social systems and structures are already there. Heart, mind, and will, mentorship, fostering intrinsic growth... these are part of successful social interventions. The author had some great snark about failed projects especially in the beginning of the book.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Andrew Fairweather

    Tech insider, Kentaro Toyama, explains the problem of how the culture of technology and innovation has too often made the assumption of technology itself leading to change for the good of society. Toyama's 'insider's knowhow' places him in a unique position in the tech debate. Without being a anti-tech paranoiac, Toyama tells us how technology works—and how it doesn't. His general thesis is that many companies who wish to do good simply come up with what he calls, 'packaged interventions' (think: Tech insider, Kentaro Toyama, explains the problem of how the culture of technology and innovation has too often made the assumption of technology itself leading to change for the good of society. Toyama's 'insider's knowhow' places him in a unique position in the tech debate. Without being a anti-tech paranoiac, Toyama tells us how technology works—and how it doesn't. His general thesis is that many companies who wish to do good simply come up with what he calls, 'packaged interventions' (think: microcredit, physical goods, charter schools, elections), solutions in the form of some foreign element which are introduced to remedy social ills. Technology is one of these things. The logic? "If every kid has got an iPad, they'll be more tech-savvy in a world which increasingly relies on the use of technology." Unfortunately, things are not that simple. Toyama found that all technology is really able to do is amplify whatever cultural currents happen to be present at the time of the 'intervention'. So, if we have a society of raging inequality, for instance, technology serves to help wealthier students whose use of technology is more guided, yet cripple poorer students whose access to education and proper device supervision leads to their relationship with technology (and the world) to be severely impaired. In other worlds? They play games and dick around on the computer. Yet, 'Geek Heresy' is far from being the luddite's book of the year—part of why this issue matters so much to Toyama is that he sees technology of having a potential to do real good in communities who could benefit from it. What follows is a solution not too different from the ones recommended in times past. Take his theory of amplification—let's say our organization focuses on educating young children. To simply insert tech devices into their educational regimen would be unwise. Far better if our program involves a dedicated, highly paid teaching staff with an effective lesson plan in concert with technology, which will serve to amplify the good already being done via our educational focus. You simply can't get around the "heart and mind" aspect of education, or any endeavor which attempts to change society for the better. Toyama writes, "A government without genuine motivation to eradicate corruption will not become more accountable through new technologies transparency. A health-care system with a shortage of well-trained doctors and nurses won't find its medical needs met with electronic medical records. A country unwilling to address the social underpinnings of inequality won't see an end to inequalities regardless of how much new low-cost technology it produces. In general, technology results in positive outcomes only where positive, capable human forces are already in place." That's all for now, but I'll just say, the author's critique of Tom's Shoes is particularly delicious. Anyway, I highly recommend this book, which sensibly susses out where technology succeeds, and where it is impotent.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Sharoda Paul

    I was familiar with some of the theory, was looking for more examples of projects in developing countries and what they learnt.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Karen

    Hugely shaped my career/life aspirations and philosophy on the role of technology in society.

  16. 4 out of 5

    jzthompson

    For the most part, this was an interesting and enjoyable read, but after careful reflection, I think it went wrong somewhere. Key to understanding the book is that the title is very misleading, and presumably imposed on Toyama by a publisher struggling to find the "elevator pitch." Really only one chapter covers technology, the broader thrust of the first section is on the failures of technocratic policy making and "one size fits all" solutions that pay no account to the local context. This cove For the most part, this was an interesting and enjoyable read, but after careful reflection, I think it went wrong somewhere. Key to understanding the book is that the title is very misleading, and presumably imposed on Toyama by a publisher struggling to find the "elevator pitch." Really only one chapter covers technology, the broader thrust of the first section is on the failures of technocratic policy making and "one size fits all" solutions that pay no account to the local context. This covers a lot of the same ground as Bill Easterly's The White Man's Burden (one of my top ten books on development) but diverges radically in the second section. Whilst Easterly proposes development efforts should focus on searching for pragmatic ways to fix local problems rather than ambitious, plans to transform the world. Toyama goes in completely the opposite direction. Rather than attempting to find solutions to what appear to be the problems of society, we should focus on "intrinsic growth," building the "heart, mind and will" of individuals, agencies and ourselves. There's a lot to like about this. The idea that the way we make a difference is by cultivating inner virtue rather than dashing about doing stuff that will probably backfire sits nicely with my basic indolence. But... it doesn't quite stack up, and Toyama has a really bad habit of taking the "virtue" of success stories at face value. Time and again he says he isn't "victim blaming" the poor, before holding up a success story as an example of the "heart, mind and will" that's needed for success. I think they call this "the Halo Effect" and/or "Survivorship Bias." Either way it doesn't sit right, and the constant repetition of "heart, mind, and will" begins to take on the ring of cultish self-help books. Despite this I was really impressed with a lot of the erudition and wide-learning on display, Chapter Eight on the Development of Intrinsic Motivation is the kind of thing I'll probably have to come back to a few times, even if it's overall conclusions seemed unrealistically optimistic. The book only really lost its fourth star in the final few chapters where Toyama outlines the practical implications of all this... Essentially development professionals should concentrate on "mentoring" people in the developing world to improve their HEART MIND AND WILL and nourish their aspirations along more better, more rational lines. Now there is something in this but the tone struck here is unpleasantly paternalistic, and seems to fall into some of the traps he accuses technocratic policy makers of... On balance, I'll stick with Easterly.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Joris

    There's some great thinking and concepts here. Such as the idea that technology works as an amplifier: a catalyst on established behaviors and desires which can be both helpful or unhelpful. The wide range of topics touched upon provides great food for thought and inspires further reading. On the downside, the author may perhaps be a little over-zealous in trying to make his points, relying on selective data and what I considered sometimes somewhat shaky lines of argument rather than pursuing a m There's some great thinking and concepts here. Such as the idea that technology works as an amplifier: a catalyst on established behaviors and desires which can be both helpful or unhelpful. The wide range of topics touched upon provides great food for thought and inspires further reading. On the downside, the author may perhaps be a little over-zealous in trying to make his points, relying on selective data and what I considered sometimes somewhat shaky lines of argument rather than pursuing a more helpful objective analysis. For example, the book kicks off by stating US poverty has not decreased in recent decades despite technological advancement. This is true, but the US is an exception: the vast majority of countries (including developing nations, the focus of this book) have decreased in poverty in recent decades while technology spread. The author ends his book advocating for high-touch on-the-ground efforts (e.g. active one on one mentorship) to reduce poverty. Those feel like fantastic initiatives that I imagine provide positive impact, but it's unclear how such initiatives could provide poverty reduction at meaningful global scale (moving a non-negligible share of the ~1 billion people in poverty out of it), a promise that technological advancement does hold, at the very least in theory. In any case, there's great content here and I found it an excellent springboard for further reading, discussion and analysis.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Manisha

    3.5 stars This book challenges technological utopians and claims that technology does not solve all the societal problems. Kentaro Toyama insists that there are various other factors that are necessary for any technology/movements/medical solutions such as vaccines (packaged interventions) to permeate and have an impact on the society. These are primarily human components such as intension, discernment and perseverance or heart, mind and will. He states that technologies simply amplify the intent 3.5 stars This book challenges technological utopians and claims that technology does not solve all the societal problems. Kentaro Toyama insists that there are various other factors that are necessary for any technology/movements/medical solutions such as vaccines (packaged interventions) to permeate and have an impact on the society. These are primarily human components such as intension, discernment and perseverance or heart, mind and will. He states that technologies simply amplify the intentions of the people. The people of Egypt used Facebook in their favour to promote democratic ideas and organise protests. This does not mean that there wouldn't have been a fight for democracy otherwise. The ideas already existed and the people just used the technology tools available to them to amplify their intentions. The book also focuses on the importance of intrinsic growth of individuals and the society. The individuals and society should want to grow and have the intention of lifting themselves. Only when this intention exists does the technology actually assist them in doing so. Complimenting social programs with mentorship can also be highly effective for the packaged interventions as this would help in developing the heart, mind and will of the beneficiaries and amplify the intended effect of the intervention.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Robert Irish

    This book came to me by way of a mention by my friend David--who spent some time working in Ghana with Engineers without Borders. As a result, when he said this book had shaped his thinking, I was curious. I'm glad I read it. First, he does an elegant critique of tech utopianism--the idea still held by so many that if we just add the right dash of technology it will make everything better--from healthcare to education to government to industry. Sigh. So nice to see that debunked. Then, there are This book came to me by way of a mention by my friend David--who spent some time working in Ghana with Engineers without Borders. As a result, when he said this book had shaped his thinking, I was curious. I'm glad I read it. First, he does an elegant critique of tech utopianism--the idea still held by so many that if we just add the right dash of technology it will make everything better--from healthcare to education to government to industry. Sigh. So nice to see that debunked. Then, there are a couple of key ideas in the book, and are worth the deep dive that Toyama gives them: The first is what he calls "the law of amplification"--by which he means that if you add technology to a situation it amplifies what is already there. For instance, if you add computers to an underprivileged school (whether in the US or 2/3 world) the computers will show up the problems--lack of infrastructure, undertrained teachers, lack of learning supports at home, etc. If you add technology to a positive situation, then (with guidance) the outcome can be significant improvement. That brings us to the second main point: mentorship. He presents a model of guidance that is respectful and easily adapted to the unique situations that every mentoring relationship entails. These two points seem pretty straightforward, and perhaps they are, but the journey is worth it.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Michaela

    Important reminder, with compelling examples, that technological solutions rarely succeed without accounting for human aspirations. Toyama doesn't seriously question the neoliberal frame of technocracy and, at the end, relies on utilitarianism a la Peter Singer to make his ethical case. But this is a short book with a specific focus, so some assumptions are necessary. Toyama calls for an increased focus on mentorship and takes the "developed" world to task for pushing technocratic solutions on o Important reminder, with compelling examples, that technological solutions rarely succeed without accounting for human aspirations. Toyama doesn't seriously question the neoliberal frame of technocracy and, at the end, relies on utilitarianism a la Peter Singer to make his ethical case. But this is a short book with a specific focus, so some assumptions are necessary. Toyama calls for an increased focus on mentorship and takes the "developed" world to task for pushing technocratic solutions on other parts of the world while failing to model wise behavior in our own countries. For example, he notes that it's well within the US's power to model more environmentally-friendly behavior by bringing down our per capita emissions, or to redefine metrics by which countries are ranked (moving from GDP to gender equity or happiness scales, for example). Focusing on these changes would create more social good than, say, encouraging the distribution of mobile phones, which will inevitably happen thanks to market forces.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Eric Tang

    Geek Heresy feels like a healthy dose of reality for the tech industry's (oft-stated) idealism, and Toyama brings in a range of decent examples to illustrate his points. As a book, though Geek Heresy often feels like it's doing too much - Toyama seems to use the theme (social change and technology) as a jumping-off point into a whole bunch of his own philosophies: Maslow's hierarchy of needs, notions of "heart, mind, and will", and thoughts on "expanding circles of concern," to name a few. I fou Geek Heresy feels like a healthy dose of reality for the tech industry's (oft-stated) idealism, and Toyama brings in a range of decent examples to illustrate his points. As a book, though Geek Heresy often feels like it's doing too much - Toyama seems to use the theme (social change and technology) as a jumping-off point into a whole bunch of his own philosophies: Maslow's hierarchy of needs, notions of "heart, mind, and will", and thoughts on "expanding circles of concern," to name a few. I found all of his philosophical/psychological themes interesting, but the book sometimes felt meandering -- more of a statement of Toyama's general beliefs about life than a book focused on social change. It covers a lot of ground, but in many ways, I felt that Toyama didn't dive too deeply into any one example or one theme. Still interesting, glad to read, and as a college student considering studying Computer Science, it checked my own beliefs!

  22. 5 out of 5

    Colin

    There is a compelling argument about introducing new technology as an amplifier of existing aspirations instead of a solution in its own right. This is particularly relevant for development work. However, the author unfairly diminishes market solutions as exploitation and slavery. His theories on intrinsic growth require waiting patiently to perfectly time jumping on the train of progress. The book aspired to explain too much, when its law of amplification was enough to instill tools for more cr There is a compelling argument about introducing new technology as an amplifier of existing aspirations instead of a solution in its own right. This is particularly relevant for development work. However, the author unfairly diminishes market solutions as exploitation and slavery. His theories on intrinsic growth require waiting patiently to perfectly time jumping on the train of progress. The book aspired to explain too much, when its law of amplification was enough to instill tools for more critical thinking. The rest was bunk. The anecdotes were instructive, illustrative and specific to the author's individual experience - it remains doubtful if these anecdotes can apply to global development work.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Javier Ormeno

    I had opportunity of reading this book as someone left it as a present for the office. It was quite easy to read. My takes of it are a) the use of technology amplifies what we are and consequently b) When engaged in development projects based on technology, it is important to factor developing peoples capacities not only in terms of technical skills but as individual (including ethics, and sense of contentment). This means working people to align their hearts to fulfil the best of their potentia I had opportunity of reading this book as someone left it as a present for the office. It was quite easy to read. My takes of it are a) the use of technology amplifies what we are and consequently b) When engaged in development projects based on technology, it is important to factor developing peoples capacities not only in terms of technical skills but as individual (including ethics, and sense of contentment). This means working people to align their hearts to fulfil the best of their potential.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Itsuro

    Will help you connect dots This is a good book for development experts and aid worker to really explore what you can do in the face of reality such as stagnant process of development and recurrent humanitarian emergencies. We come across fancy and attractive themes about how innovation and technology can help human prosperity and accelerate addressing social causes and development issues in the world. But this book will help us to realize what actually important is.

  25. 4 out of 5

    bunting

    I’m bummed that this books suggestion is one of “technocrats shouldn’t throw an app at it, they should be compassionate and listen” which is - don’t get me wrong - better than most theory of social change out there, but still seems to put a whole lot of emphasis on needing technocrats and affecting change through individual heroism.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Bibhas

    Focus on tech and the perpetual leaning towards solutionism has changed us so much that we now know nothing but to run after quick solutions that, more often than not, doesn't stand the test of time. "Geeks" are more prone to this because we think we have this superpower to write code and build software that can solve almost any problem. Reality is a bit different. Focus on tech and the perpetual leaning towards solutionism has changed us so much that we now know nothing but to run after quick solutions that, more often than not, doesn't stand the test of time. "Geeks" are more prone to this because we think we have this superpower to write code and build software that can solve almost any problem. Reality is a bit different.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Landon

    It's a pretty short book, but even so I think it overstayed its welcome a bit. I do think the thesis is a good take-away though and it's something I want to remember as a teacher -- technology doesn't solve problems, people do. It's a pretty short book, but even so I think it overstayed its welcome a bit. I do think the thesis is a good take-away though and it's something I want to remember as a teacher -- technology doesn't solve problems, people do.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Yuwen Lu

    A really good book that saved me from tech solutionism, in which I had been holding faith for long as a CS student. Real social impact stems from the interplay of heart, mind, and will, and technology has never been the silver bullet.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Marcela

    Started off with interesting premise but started to drag about half way through. But definitely worth reading at least first few chapters

  30. 4 out of 5

    Kristin

    Excellent book. A must-read for anyone that wants to use technology to make the world a better place.

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