GeekWire Radio: ‘Geek Heresy’ with former Microsoft researcher Kentaro Toyama

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Kentaro Toyama, author of Geek Heresy, with his 10-year-old Nokia phone. (Erynn Rose photo)

This week on the GeekWire radio show: A conversation with Kentaro Toyama, the author of “Geek Heresy: Rescuing Social Change from the Cult of Technology.” The former Microsoft researcher contends that tech leaders and philanthropists are counting too heavily on technology to improve conditions around the world.

geekheresyToyama is a computer scientist and an associate professor at the University of Michigan School of Information. He worked on cutting-edge projects including early location-based and computer vision technologies during his time at Microsoft Research. Today he has a much different mindset, making the case that technology and the Internet are actually not the answer.

So what happened to change his viewpoint?

“I went to India and I saw things very differently,” he says, referring to his role helping to establish Microsoft Research’s lab in India. “Oftentimes you don’t really see the situation even in your own life until you go somewhere else. … This is a place where not everybody has a smartphone. Not everybody is ordering books on Amazon. Not everybody Googles for information and for facts. As a result, I got to see how technology actually works in a very wide range of situations.”

“The conclusion that I came to, ultimately, was that technology can help in some ways, but that it is by no means a solution in and of itself.”

In fact, he’s living this lifestyle himself — carrying an old-fashioned Nokia phone that you can see in the picture above. It’s still working for him after 10 years.

We talk about the experiences that led Toyama to this mindset, in places ranging from Lakeside School in Seattle, to schools in rural India. And we get his thoughts on best practices for technologists looking to make an actual impact on the world.

Listen to the show below or via this MP3 file.

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