can be addressed directly by helping
“have-nots” with education, mentor-ship, funding, and introductions to
influential people. Technologists can
propagate their own skills and networks, for example, by teaching programming or connecting budding
entrepreneurs with seasoned ones.
Conversely, giving someone the latest
gadget does little in and of itself to help
that person close any disparities. A metronome is a useful tool, but it does not
make the concert musician.
Finally, all of us can engage the
political process as citizens. Technologists often look down on politics,
but inequality is a political issue. The
computing industry has immense influence, and we can engage in ways
beyond the skills of our professional
training—just as some already do with
political issues that matter to them,
such as immigration.
Because technology amplifies human forces, if we ensure social currents are appropriately directed, then
all of our amazing technology will work
in humanity’s favor.
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Kentaro Toyama ( email@example.com) is W.K. Kellogg
Associate Professor at the University of Michigan School
of Information and author of Geek Heresy: Rescuing Social
Change from the Cult of Technology.
Copyright held by author.
And yet, it was exactly where people
were less skilled that we most wanted to
provide support. For technology to help
the world’s least privileged, it requires
exactly the human foundation that is
missing to begin with.
So, what is to be done? And more
specifically, how can computer scientists concerned about inequality
contribute? The Law of Amplification
points the way.
First, those already doing some-
thing to counter inequality should
use technology to amplify their ef-
forts. Indiscriminate dissemination
of technology is futile, but targeted
use to amplify progressive forces can
be effective. For instance, social ac-
tivists fighting for progressive policy
should use whatever communication
channels they have available to get
their message out. (They should be
braced for an ongoing effort, how-
ever, because it is their voice, not
the technology, which is the primary
cause of change.)
Second, those with the proverbial
hammer in search of nails should
work with good carpenters. The impact of individuals or organizations
that are combatting inequality successfully can often be amplified with
good technology. Of course, where
there aren’t good carpenters, the tools
won’t work themselves.
Third, socioeconomic disparities
Three boys at a computer literacy training center near Jhansi, India, in 2005.
A computer literacy class for girls in a low-income community initiated by the author in
Bangalore, India, in 2004.