[iDC] One Laptop Per Child - MIT/Negroponte Initiative

molly wright steenson molly at girlwonder.com
Tue Oct 23 13:31:16 UTC 2007

Would those modifications help children? Are aftermarket  
modifications a reality? $20 is awfully expensive for schools that  
lack desks and families in slums who make $1 a day and use  
microfinancing and savings schemes because they make too little money  
to be within the reach of banking. New microphones made of... what?  
Are we imagining Arduino closet industries and not auto-rickshaw  
drivers or housepainters or scrap metal haulers? A nice idea, but  
there are many more pressing needs first.

Why is it that I hear very, very little about OLPC in developing  
contexts and far more about it as a fetish object for geeks?Look at  
Flickr -- do a search on OLPC or "One Laptop Per Child" -- you might  
see a photo of Negroponte's slide of an arid Ugandan landscape but  
you probably won't see OLPC in its intended setting. Instead, you'll  
see it at SIGGRAPH, in Silicon Valley conference rooms, and its leaf  
green detailing. For example: http://www.flickr.com/photos/ 

I'd like to be convinced otherwise, but I have extreme doubts about  
this initiative. I'm more convinced about more comprehensive  
educational systems that offer curriculum and teaching assistance   
and the proliferation of the mobile phone in emerging markets. When  
there's no safe water, when there's no communication infrastructure,  
when you can't count on the quality of education in school (consider  
the level of non-literacy despite school attendance in urban Indian  
slums, and then consider that schools in rural areas are much worse)  
-- is a laptop with Google access via wireless the solution?

Again, please convince me otherwise but it looks like an emerging  
market Pixelvision: ultimately a groovy object for filmmakers and  
artists and less known for kids...


On Oct 20, 2007, at 10:41 PM, Andreas Schiffler wrote:

> lizlosh at uci.edu wrote:
>> But I saw the actual machines at SIGGRAPH and used them, and so I  
>> will not
>> be getting one of their laptops for my 11-year-old this Christmas  
>> season.
> I don't buy Liz's "small keyboard" argument.  Regardless of that  
> the design intention was, the device will be used for many things  
> and by many people simply because it is a cheap and open/hackable  
> computing device that will be widely available in regions where  
> things like this come at a premium. So as for the keyboard issue:
> - There are 8 Million blackberry users hacking away on a 5x5cm  
> (2x2") keyboard (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/BlackBerry#Keyboard).  
> They seem to 'not-mind' the size and these adults get real work  
> done with the tiny buttons (and when the network is down, the US  
> government stops functioning).
> - Also keep in mind that the 'mobile terminal' market pushes  
> smaller 'keyboards' in the Billions. (http:// 
> www.windowsfordevices.com/news/NS5566717572.html) and since these  
> devices are the communication and transaction equipment of choice  
> in many countries, people should feel right at home with the OLPC's  
> luxurious (compared to a phone) keyboard size.
> - As a blog commentator pointed out, there are USB options for  
> keyboard expansion. May I suggest a particular kind: "Flexible  
> Fullsize USB Keyboard" is waterproof, washable and rugged, yet  
> still relatively cheap (available for $20 at TigerDirect ... hence  
> available for a few $ a piece when purchased in lots of 1K directly  
> from the Chinese manufacturer). I am sure if the OLPC market gets  
> going in places like solutions like these will become available as  
> well. I guess one could see this as an "upgrade" plot by the  
> manufacturer, but ...
> - If the keyboard sucks, people will be inventive. I guess that is  
> part of the idea behind this thing. Maybe the microphone could be  
> tapped and voice recognition can be made to work by users in Egypt  
> using only the puny 433Mhz of CPU power available. Or people will  
> switch to touch pad mode (aren't the iphones and ipods teaching our  
> thumbs just now) rendering the CapsLock ... oops, that's gone on  
> the OLPC ... mode of ASCII data entry as obsolete as programming C/C 
> ++ is painful on a German keyboard (it's that { key that's killing  
> them). So just maybe the ingenuity of some kids in Peru will  
> deliver something useful that we have yet to find on our multi GHz  
> MacBooks and Vaio's.
> I am on the OLPC pre-order list and will stay on it, if only to  
> sponsor one 'digital rabbit' for someone else. But western buyers  
> have to be realistic about the digital divide such a low powered  
> computing device opens up for us: I doubt my son (7y) old will make  
> much use of it, because he's already much too used to the hectic I/ 
> O demands of games like 'Supreme Commander' (the DVD that came free  
> with my latest video card upgrade). But who knows, maybe the  
> 'kiddie' color will attract my daughter (4y) which does seem to  
> have a genetic attraction to certain RGB values ... and just maybe  
> she'll become a hacker chick (and not a princess or ballerina)  
> because of the OLPC.
> So the key point I was trying to make is that the device doesn't  
> have to be perfect for people to take advantage of it. And  
> shortcoming may actually advance the state-of-the-art, especially  
> since the device is designed to be open: to quote from the kernel  
> developers "Nicholas Negroponte's one absolute demand is to get rid  
> of Caps Lock," Gettys says. And, Bender says, "There's one new key  
> they get that's the important one and that's the View Source key."  
> It is that "Design for Hackability" aspect of the OLPC that allows  
> for 'redefinition' beyond customization (http:// 
> www.purselipsquarejaw.org/research_design/papers/ 
> panel_hackability_DIS2004.pdf) which is really the strength of the  
> device and its open source software 'matrix'.
> --AS
> <aschiffler.vcf>_______________________________________________
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