Technology Is Not the Answer

One of the incredible perks at the Foundation is they invite amazing folks to come speak to us. Robert Putnam, author of Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis, was just in town. This week a man named Kentaro Toyama is coming. I had no idea who he was but the title of his book was intriguing: Geek Heresy: Rescuing Social Change from the Cult of Technology. Since I knew I was going to miss his talk I looked him up online and watched his TEDx talk called “The Myth of Scale.” Since I am obsessed with thinking about scale in education, I was curious to see what he had to say.

He used to work at Microsoft and now works as a professor in Michigan. He lived in India for several years and tried to bring “technology solutions” to poor countries. He says he learned the lesson over and over again: “Technology is not the solution to complex problems in the social world”.

His thesis: “Technology only magnifies human intent and capacity. It can’t substitute for them.”

Even in the United States he argues, if technology were the solution we would have seen the poverty gap close with the rise of all the new technologies in the last several decades. But we have not seen the poverty gap change over the same period.

The myth of scale is that:

  • Twitter is changing the way we live.
  • Social networking is transforming learning.

He cautions us not to misattribute the “cause”.

The good news for those of us in education is that we have a lot of teachers with good intent and capacity so technology can work in our favor. Twitter can be a means to reducing isolation and expanding teacher networks like Molly Robbins argues in her blog.

His advice to us: “What is most effective is to teach and mentor and to expand our social circle to interact with folks we normally don’t interact with.” Good rules to live by.