Blinded by technology: has our belief in Silicon Valley led the world astray?

In Geek Heresy, computer expert Kentaro Toyama warns against our over-reliance on technology and explains why people, not smart tools, are the key to social change

When Microsoft programmer Kentaro Toyama was sent by his employers to India in 2004, charged with using technology to improve education, he expected to swoop in armed with gadgets and effect whizzy social change. It didn’t quite pan out like that. Toyama had some early successes at Microsoft Research India, including the invention of a device that allowed multiple mice-wielding pupils to control one computer at the same time. (MultiPoint, a problem-fixer for classrooms that had too few computers, won awards.) But he quickly came to see that technology was not the “magic cure” export his employers – and, indeed, many in Silicon Valley – seemed to expect.

In his new book, Geek Heresy: Rescuing Social Change from the Cult of Technology, he writes that this was “hard to take. I was a computer scientist, a Microsoft employee, and the head of a group that aimed to find digital solutions for the developing world. I wanted nothing more than to see innovation triumph… But exactly where the need was greatest, technology seemed unable to make a difference.” He worked in schools that had been given computers but had no tech support, the broken-down hardware quickly ending up stacked in cupboards. He watched teachers struggle to cope with screen-enthused kids, for whom “a computer was less a help, more hindrance”.

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Anita Sarkeesian interview: ‘The word “troll” feels too childish. This is abuse’

When Anita Sarkeesian launched a YouTube series on misogyny in video games, she received death threats and was forced into hiding. A year on from GamerGate, she explains why a global ‘temper tantrum’ won’t make her quit

Anita Sarkeesian doesn’t give me the address of her San Francisco apartment over email. Instead, she texts it to me a few hours before we’re set to meet. After thousands of rape and death threats, a bomb scare and an email promising a mass shooting at one of her speaking events, a woman can’t be too careful.

Sarkeesian, media critic and executive director of the nonprofit and video web series Feminist Frequency, has spent the past few years of her life at the centre of a firestorm in the gaming community – one that brings together misogyny, technology and a cultural shift in an industry so huge it now outperforms Hollywood. In videos that discuss misogyny in video games and widespread tropes that diminish women, Sarkeesian – named one of the 100 most influential people of 2015 by Time magazine – talks to the camera, with a commentary that runs the gamut from feminist theory to historical analysis. Her videos are smart, incisive and much needed in an industry in which women are often treated as little more than background decoration or damsels in distress.

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Best free Android apps of 2015

In our best free Android apps of 2015 article we provide you with the hottest, most useful apps the Google Play Store has to offer — and you don’t have to spend a penny.

(This is a preview – click here to read the entire entry.)

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On the road: Volvo XC90 – car review

‘Nothing will fox this car, not your active lifestyle, nor your ridiculous boat’

Friends of mine already have the Volvo XC90, the previous incarnation, which to all intents and purposes is the same, only not so safe. (When I say “not so safe”, that is within the margin of “extremely safe: I would look as safe to an inhabitant of the 80s or 90s as a Bugaboo would look to a person on a ski lift”.) The new version has its sensors and its autobraking, its blind spot information system, its cross traffic alert (a lane discipline feature, basically) and its intelligent cruise control, which effectively enables you not only to stop driving but also to go to sleep. It’s a progressive version of the mega-car, cocooning its inhabitants but paying more than lip service to the fact that it is also nice not to kill cyclists.

Back to my friends – I asked them what they thought of the previous model, and the man said: “This is really a criticism of myself more than the car – when all you ever do is drive two miles down a gentle hill, and then two miles back up, this is the worst car imaginable.” The woman said: “I like the automatic tailgate, it’s designed so you can sit on it and take your wellies off. But when all you ever walk on is pavement…” It’s not an urban car, or if you think it is – you see them everywhere – then you’re not an urban person.

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