Short Book Review: Geek Heresy by Kentaro Toyama
SBR: I was hoping to make Geek Heresy one of my monthly recommendation, but decided against it because the second part annoyed me to the hilt. It was the typical padding material that non-fiction publishers seem compelled to put in a book to reach a certain word-count goal. The first half of the book is a must-read though. It denounces technology, and more generically what it calls packaged intervention, as the ultimate solution to widespread social, political or economic problems. Despite the hoopla around Arab spring, facebook or forced elections can’t establish democracies, not stable, functional ones anyway; computers in schools cannot educate children better; and microfinance cannot magically eliminate poverty. Democracy needs strong institutions and aware citizens; better education needs good teachers and adult supervision; and microfinance needs handholding and training the beneficiaries to enable them to make the best use of credit. It doesn’t mean technology and packaged interventions are not useful though. When exactly are they useful and how is convincingly argued about in the book. Technocrats and bureaucrats will do well to stop looking for silver bullets and easy scale in solutions to hard problems. Creating positive change will continue to require hard work. Technology can help, but it cannot be an alternative to human factors.
To read or not to read: You must read it if you work in the social sector – for-profit or otherwise. The first part is also a must-read for others, especially if you are a blind devotee of technology as the ultimate solution to everything. If you aren’t a hopeless case, it might open your eyes. You should also read if you are a complete technology skeptic. Because you need to know where exactly technology can be of real help. Then start reading the second part. If you find the first few pages pointless, you can safely skip the rest. Else read on and finish the book.