[iDC] FW: One Laptop Per Child - MIT/Negroponte Initiative
dg6n at unix.mail.virginia.edu
Wed Jan 2 17:45:31 UTC 2008
The idea that NN is the only, primary, or most important commentator on
this initiative is exactly the prejudice I want to undo.
NN is talking about a cultural-technological initiative that has
potentially *profound impact on the entire world of the global south.* It
resembles patterns of cultural-technological imperialism that have been
exploited by dominant powers since 1492.
I would not deny for one moment that "we" in the "developed" world should
be doing everything we can to address the poverty and terrible living
conditions of many people in the global south. Though a main effort in
that regard would be to undo our own privilege and the exploitation of
others on which it depends, and in which computers are hardly an innocent
Such efforts must come from an informed position. They must start with
a detailed, thorough and thoughtful consideration of how cultural
imperialism has worked in the past, and what exactly the ideas and goals
of "development" and "education" are and should be.
I have read much of NN's and others' writings on OLPC. I see none of this
consideration, and no marks of NN (or his collaborators) knowing very much
about cultural imperialism. I see many marks of them being convinced about
how great computers are.
No doubt--they are great. No doubt many children will love working with
them. No doubt cheap laptops are good for many people, especially in the
schools of poverty-stricken cosmopoles. But what will be the long-term
effects of unlesashing this technology on the world's peoples who live at
the cultural margins? What will happen when so many children receive what
one commentator on this list call the "drug" of high technological
capitalism? Our past suggests that there will be a strong, thorough, and
unfortunate abandonment of cultures that work perfectly well for the
people who live in them now. We see this effect happening in many parts of
the world already, in no small part due to computer technology, without
OLPC. Do we really want the whole world to be computerized? And who are
"we" (and who is NN?) to decide that's a good idea?
Perhaps if a wide range of NGOs and UN representatives had asked for OLPC,
I would be less critical. They didn't. It came from "us." It emerged from
ideas informed about computers but not well informed about culture. It
will have many positive effects; but for this reason we are much too
hesitant to talk about its potentially disastrous effects. If we were
really interested in helping people, we would start from a base of
something like the Hippocratic oath: first, do no harm.
I do not consider NN an expert on cultural-technological imperialism, and
it is fairly late in the day for him to come up to speed on the topic
(though I would urge him to do so). For that reason, I do not think that
the best mode is for us to put questions to him or to build new software
for OLPC. I consider it absolutely vital for this "us" to raise questions
about the project in its entirety, who is authorizing it, whose interests
it serves, and what its ultimate effects (positive and negative) might be.
Media Studies, English, and Linguistics
University of Virginia
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