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

David Golumbia 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.


David Golumbia
Assistant Professor
Media Studies, English, and Linguistics
University of Virginia

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