Monday, December 10, 2007

OLPC Puzzle

Much has been written and said about this One Laptop Per Child bit (the famous $100 laptop that now costs like $300). I've written elsewhere that I think that computers tend to be a waste in American schools, so you can imagine my thoughts of pushing computer use among the worlds destitute in the middle of nowhere. Dvorak fortunately has written a couple pieces on this:
Even on the One Laptop Per Child site there is a creepy anecdote -- related as if it exemplified a positive benefit -- about how some poor family in Cambodia used the hand-cranked laptop's screen as a source of light for their abode.
Perhaps the organization should be thinking of the hand-cranked generator as serving that purpose alone and not computing. Lights, along with cellular phones and radios, seem more important than laptops.
Apparently, saying anything negative about the OLPC XO-1 computer amounts to heresy in this community. You may as well promote NAMBLA or the KKK. People don't want to consider the possibility that their well-meaning thoughts are a joke and that a $200 truckload of rice would be of more use than Wi-Fi in the middle of nowhere.
Liberal-esque feel goodery abounds on this thing, but I know a couple articles have noted that the effort has also helped the capitalist quest to the bottom of the barrel in search of the cheapest ass computer that can be made. Still, there's pitfalls:
Negroponte retorted that Linux is an accepted and widely used OS that's actually running on 50 percent of the world's servers. Servers? Did he even hear himself? I just told him that these users are more like consumers than IT staff, and he's recommending a server OS. Is he serious?
And this:
Of course, it might be a problem if there is no classroom and he can't read. The literacy rate in Niger is 13 percent, for example. Hey, give them a computer! And even if someone can read, how many Web sites and wikis are written in SiSwati or isiZulu? Feh. These are just details to ignore.
Good luck talking those natives through a Linux kernel patch!
Someone had this comment on one of those articles:
These kids would be much better off with books and pencils.
The same thing could be said of most, if not all kids.

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