Geek Heresy by Kentaro Toyama

Career Profiles, Geek Heresy
Kentaro Toyama Portrait

Kentaro Toyama

Kentaro Toyama is the author of Geek Heresy: Rescuing Social Change from the Cult of Technology, a new book that aims to challenge our over-dependence on using technology to solve global problems. While technology has improved the world in many ways, Toyama argues that it is human capacity that can produce the social change we need.

WHAT DO YOU DO?

I am originally a computer scientist and former researcher at Microsoft Research in India. Prior to founding the team in India, I found myself getting bored of my job. It was intellectually challenging but I wanted to do something that contributed to society in some way. I was aware I had a privileged background, and that a lot of people in the world didn’t have what I had. I tried volunteering for non-profits and I liked it. When I got to India, I was able to do something that merged all of these things professionally.

WHAT IS YOUR ADVICE TO OTHERS WHO ASPIRE TO BE IN YOUR FIELD?

Get international field experience. In the absence of that you can do a lot of great work but without on-the-ground experience it will be disconnected from reality. Field work gives you a feeling for the real challenges and the realization that no amount of planning can really anticipate reality on the ground.

For those interested in ICT4D it’s important to remember that technology amplifies social forces. It helps where human forces are already working in the right direction. Find organizations doing what you believe in and that are also doing their work well. Doing work well means being managed well and meeting goals on the ground.

WHAT WAS THE MOST SURPRISING THING YOU LEARNED WHILE RESEARCHING?

What still surprises me is that while everyone agrees with the saying, “if you give a person a fish, they eat for a day; if you teach them how to fish, they eat for a lifetime,” so few people spend their time and resources on teaching.

WHAT ARE YOUR FAVORITE BOOKS?

Fiction: The Child in Time by Ian McEwan.

Non-fiction: The Better Angels of Our Nature by Steven Pinker


Geek Heresy is our book for the month of June. Stay tuned for discussion questions and check out geekheresy.org for more info on Kentaro Toyama and what he deems a “misunderstanding about technology’s role in society.”