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

mlahey at artic.edu mlahey at artic.edu
Tue Jan 1 12:27:14 UTC 2008

I'd have to agree that magazines like the Economist and Forbes aren't really the
most reliable source for describing how culture works...more often they are
hyping how they would like culture to work.

Splitting hairs, and then splicing them together with other hairs:

Fatima: your strong condemnation is jolting.  Yet I would have to agree that
technology is almost never neutral.  The QUERTY keyboard on which we type a bit
more slowly is based on the Roman alphabet, no?  Having done both, I can testify
there is a huge difference between being an English speaker trying to learn
Chinese and an English speaker trying to learn German.  Sticking to your own
alphabet is LOTS easier.  I don't think Chinese adapted intuitively to the
QUERTY.  There's an extra steepness to the learning curve in such cases. 
Virtual reality, 3d environments...those were first developed for military
training applications.  Obviously if children playing games derived from the
original technology are able to use them as military training applications
(Columbine), this technology has not been able to wrest itself into

Our social interaction has a particular structure, even if we are not aware of
it.  Our cultural expression has a particular structure. Other cultures are
other, as the German saying goes.  For example anthropologist Lila Abu-Lughod
describes that Bedouins both male and female rarely tell anyone directly what
they are feeling, but indirectly let the social group in on their private
thoughts by singing Qawwali, a traditional sort of blues composition (and
likely the direct ancestor of our modern blues form).  

How do you call up your best friend and sing them a Qawwali when the whole meme
depends on it seeming as if you just happen to be singing that song?  For that
matter, the entire germination of original live music (I'm not talking about
sound waves generated by a computer in this case) is destroyed by a remote
socialization culture, and by an industrial culture, and by the consumer
culture.  In Cuba I saw the first time in my life people just spending time on
the corner messing around with guitars.  Or people sitting in a garden messing
around with poetry as if it's just a normal thing to do, a pretty game to play.
 Well, they got nothing to buy even if they had money to buy it with so they
spend time together.  Have you walked down an American street recently and seen
a group of 15 people teaching each other guitar tricks?  I didn't think so.  At
best some younger and radical people have started organizing "workshops" which
morph into the social free exchange arenas.  Go Portland (get off the drugs,

What can happen from the OLPC program is that people can start waking up to the
fact that what is happening to them is wrong.  It's wrong for their culture to
start coming apart at the seams so that people in our culture can make
themselves important.  It's wrong that the traditions which provided a social
ecosystem of checks and balances are so brutally quickly destroyed, so the
system goes haywire and they start abusing each other as bad as we abuse them.
(destroying the traditional knowledge of a people creates a vulnerability that
we are practiced at exploiting) They can start communicating about it and
organizing a resistance.  That's the best that can be hoped from such a

The abuses of the program are likely to happen as often as the benefits similar
to what Steve describes.  Yet resistance takes most often the form of
appropriation he described in his Grandmother's story.  And that is the other
hair.  My favorite Arjun Appadurai, "Modernity at Large" is largely concerned
with these empowering re-implementations of colonialist memes, both
technological and cultural.  I would like to point out that globalization has
been going on as long as humankind has existed and there is no halting waves of
change, no closing any border.

There was once a bitter feud in physical anthropology between archaeologists who
were studying the Iroquois and the archaeologists studying the Algonquians. 
They had agreed on boundaries between the two language groups when suddenly in
the middle of those boundaries pot shards were discovered which were dissimilar
to both groups.  Some argued that it was a new Algonquian tribe, others that it
proved the existence of a new Iroquois tribe.  Some declared it must be a new
tribe altogether.  The academic papers grew quite scathing.  Yet in the end the
simple answer was not obvious - and yes, I blame their culture for their
blindness.  The Iroquois and Algonquians shared pottery techniques, and the
shards proved to have characteristics of both tribes.  They created something
together.  Holy crap.  Imagine that.   So in the end I think that Steve is also
right and that we have the power to "reprogram" technologies and cultures so
that they serve us in any way we want if we can be tough and persistent and
demanding - in Otherwords, if we can put a force into it equal and opposite to
the force of colonialism.


Quoting Brad Borevitz <brad at onetwothree.net>:

> quoting from a puff piece in a rag with questionable journalistic standards
> ... and that quote from some marketing exec whose assertion is that ³women¹s
> influence² is somehow almost twice what some industry association estimates
> ... ugh ...
> but the biggest problem here is the facile equation of consumption with
> power. if these assertions can make any sense at all, they have to do so
> deep inside the bankrupt ideological fortress of consumer capitalism.
> i believe it was mark bartlet in that thread without a subject who
> complained about the uncritical techno-boosterism that plagues this list.
> some of the stuff in this thread is a prime example (especially from steve).
> at base, what fatima and sam are arguing is that technology is not neutral;
> it seems like this has to be the starting point for a critical discussion of
> its social and political impacts. technology can never be neutral since it
> comes from, is produced by, is designed in and for the benefit of those who
> own the means of production and distribution. and secondarily, it is
> consumed and used within social and political situations that mark access
> and use by existing structures, tendencies and limitations. these are
> givens.
> but within these givens, as theorists like de Ceretau help us to understand,
> people have a great deal of latitude in bending things to their own purposes
> ‹ of intervening tactically within the strategic givens of a power structure
> that is other to them.
> all of these facets have to be considered to understand or anticipate the
> possible impact that the OLPC could have. there are good reasons to be
> skeptical about the kinds of claims that have been made for the project. and
> at the same time, i don¹t think it makes sense to dismiss the possibility
> that there might be unforeseen possibilities that actual use ­ especially by
> those with the least power ­ might bring. but that is not the same as
> embracing the clearly simplistic and ideologically suspect discourse of
> ³empowerment.²
> and stupidest of all, is a the idea of empowerment through consumption ­
> consumption is what enslaves us. and shopping has been a rather traditional
> occupation for women in the gendered division of labor. it is hardly
> revolutionary for women to be relegated to that role for home electronics as
> well. as electronics become more and more associated with the domestic
> realm, its rather consistent with normative alignments of interest.
> b
> On 12/31/07 9:07 AM, "Steve Borsch" <steve at iconnectdots.com> wrote:
> > Quote: "Women now influence 90% of consumer electronics purchases, from
> the
> > type and look of the big-screen TV to the color of the iPod speakers for
> the
> > living room, Best Buy says. The Consumer Electronics Association estimates
> > their influence is less, but still significant and growing. It says women
> > influence 57% of purchases, or $80 billion of the $140 billion spent on
> > consumer electronics this year."
> > 
> > Hmmm....perhaps you should reframe your perspective to the reality of the
> > power of women with respect to the consumption of technology. If all this
> tech
> > is male-created and by its very nature exclusionary of women, are you
> implying
> > that women are a bunch of sheep uninvolved in tech design, unable to
> create
> > their own technology and so powerless as to subordinate themselves to men
> and
> > are going ahead and buying the technology anyway? It seems to me by the
> > numbers in the quote above that *women* are the dominant force driving the
> > consumption of technology and therefore perhaps technology is more
> feminine
> > than masculine?  I'm seeing that tech is being increasingly designed to
> > celebrate the feminine and cater to women (though all the flipper,
> flappers
> > and dweebezarbs built into most technology -- exceptions being what Apple,
> > Bose and even the software in the OLPC provide -- are far too geeky and
> geared
> > for the technoweenie males that love to fiddle with features).
> > 
> > Here's the article URL:
> >

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