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Needs versus Aspirations, or Why Mobile Phone Apps to Save the World Rarely Work

Tuesday, February 17, 2015
12:00 AM
1255 North Quad

The funding for a community-radio program intended to address agricultural needs is cut off when the community decides it most wants to air local music. A computer-based program intended to improve language skills ends up enabling a career upgrade. A mobile operator in India says that while people claim to need health and education, what they pay for are the “ABCs”: astrology, Bollywood, and cricket.

These examples could be interpreted as a clash between the two sides of “needs and aspirations,” a phrase that is commonly invoked to indicate the areas that social policies and interventions should address. In this talk, I present some preliminary thoughts on the difference between needs and aspirations, and I suggest that while needs are well-understood and operationalized, they are not as powerful a motive force as aspirations, which are under-theorized and often overlooked in practice.

Kentaro Toyama is W.K. Kellogg Associate Professor at the University of Michigan School of Information and a fellow of the Dalai Lama Center for Ethics and Transformative Values at MIT. In previous lives, Kentaro taught at Ashesi University in Ghana and co-founded Microsoft Research India, where he did research on the application of information and communication technology to international development. He is the author of Geek Heresy: Rescuing Social Change from the Cult of Technology.

Please help forward this announcement to anyone who might be interested! Light lunch will be provided, please let us know if you will be there: RSVP.

This event is organized and hosted by MISC, Michigan Interactive & Social Computing.