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

Steve Borsch steve at iconnectdots.com
Wed Jan 2 18:19:03 UTC 2008

When I was invited to join this list, I surmised that it would be comprised
of deep thinkers and those who appreciate vision and are trying to move the
world forward. People who push against the membrane of the future rather
than pull back from it as critics of "male created technology" or
"imperalists" or "capitalists" within the context of OLPC (and I'm seeing
more criticism than critical thinking). I've been accused of being a
happy-assed optimist (my words) in this list with respect to technology and
am guilty as charged.

I applaud Negroponte's vision. I'd applaud yours too if you were doing
something so audacious and were bringing to bear all the skills in
technology and persuasion you could muster while doing so in an attempt to
provide a window to the world for those who may instead have that world just
pass them by. I'm not going to argue the merits of being a hunter-gatherer,
quietly and serenely living life without intrusion from the West and their
technology vs. being people embedded in trying to figure out how to
appropriately, authentically and with meaning USE the technology being
created for ever greater good FOR ALL OF US.

While I won't compare Nicholas Negroponte to the 19th century steel and
railroad industrialist, Andrew Carnegie, there are some parallels of vision
and action (and motivations) worthy of note.

Between 1886 and 1919, Andrew Carnegie's donations of more than $40 million
paid for 1,679 new library buildings in communities large and small across
America (>2,000 total with the ones built in Canada and overseas in Britain,
Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, the West Indies and Fiji). Usually, he
would undertake to endow the building and equipping of a proposed library,
but only on condition that the local authority provided a suitable site and
agreed to pay for its operation and maintenance.(

I've been in nearly 25 of these libraries in my lifetime since many of them
still stand in small towns around the Midwest where I've journeyed. One of
note is in Two Harbors, MN (on Lake Superior) literally across the street
from the building 3M was founded in (though seven years before the library
was built) and this library's classical revival style brick and sandstone
building still stands and is actively used to this day. On the North Shore
of Lake Superior, it's one of the few libraries by anyone were ever built
and it would take a half hour drive to Duluth to find a better one.

That $40M Carnegie invested just here in the US (part of $350M he gave away
as a philanthropist before he died, worth $4.2B in today's dollars) would be
worth nearly a half billion dollars today which should give you a feel for
its impact.

What was Carnegie's motivation?

*"Carnegie had two main reasons for donating money to the founding of
libraries. First, he believed that libraries added to the meritocratic
nature of America. Anyone with the right inclination and desire could
educate himself. Second, Carnegie believed that immigrants like himself
needed to acquire cultural knowledge of America which the library allowed
immigrants to do.

Carnegie indicated it was the first reason that was the most important to
him. As a boy working a hard job with long hours, he had no access to
education. However, a Colonel Anderson started a small library of 400 books
which he lent on Saturday afternoons to local boys. This is how Carnegie
educated himself. Wrote Carnegie (1920) of Colonel Anderson's library, "This
is but a slight tribute and gives only a faint idea of the depth of
gratitude which I feel for what he did for me and my companions. It was from
my own early experience that I decided there was no use to which money could
be applied so productive of good to boys and girls who have good within them
and ability and ambition to develop it, as the founding of a public library
in a community..." (pp. 47) Further, Carnegie is quoted as saying, "In a
public library men could at least share cultural opportunities on a basis of
equality." (New York Times, Jan. 8, 1903, pp. 1) Through the library, all
could educate themselves enough to share in America's richness if they so
desired."*  *

Argue all you want about the merits of Carnegie and how he amassed his
wealth. Forget that he had a vision that he could put into action because he
was wired to make things happen (and could make it happen) and he wanted to
PROVIDE ACCESS TO KNOWLEDGE to his fellow human beings. He saw a need, he
had the resources and motivation to do something about it, and HE DID

*"Carnegie's desire to socialize new immigrants is also addressed by the
functional paradigm. Wrote Hurn (1985), "An educated citizenry is an
informed citizenry, less likely to be manipulated by demagogues, and more
likely to make responsible and informed political decisions and be actively
involved in the political process. Education reduces intolerance and
prejudice, and increases support for civil liberties; it is, in other words,
an essential bulwark of a democratic society dedicated to freedom and
justice." *(pp. 51)  ^

Is the OLPC the best possible solution? Maybe...maybe not. Perhaps its a
mobile device. Or possibly it's a combination of technologies. It could be
books *and* a laptop. Or maybe we just hang around and wait for someone to
build a replicator like on Star Trek so we can manipulate matter and create
anything we can imagine. I submit that we CANNOT WAIT and Mr. Negroponte and
others are not.

One statement I'll make again and stand by forever that sums up why the OLPC
makes sense and all conversation should be geared toward the CATEGORY of
devices and making them better (and not just the device Negroponte and team
have unleashed on the world) is this: *the Internet is the biggest shift in
human communications and knowledge storage ever and ideas, innovations and
human connection now move at the speed of electrons. Denying anyone, any
kid, from being a part of that shift -- no matter how small and regardless
of the technology used to participate in it -- is relegating them to a
future of intellectual and knowledge poverty.*

Or perhaps we should just discuss how Carnegie built his fortune atop the
backs of the unfortunates, capitalism is intrinsically horrible, in all his
speeches he used male modifiers, and therefore the result of his massive
philanthropy was moot and what Negroponte is attempting is a horrible
imperialistic intrusion treading into places we should not.

Steve Borsch


*The Sociological Theories Behind the Carnegie Libraries"

^Hurn, Christopher J. (1985). *The limits and possibilities of schooling: An
introduction to the sociology of education*. Boston: Allyn and Bacon,  Inc.
Chapter 2 ("Theories of schooling and society: The functional and conflict
paradigms") and Chapter 3 ("Explanations of the expansion of schooling").

On Jan 2, 2008 10:48 AM, Michael Naimark <michael at naimark.net> wrote:

>  Way down on the OLPC timeline is this entry: "1982: In a French
> government-sponsored pilot project, [Seymour] Papert and Negroponte
> distribute Apple II microcomputers to school children in a suburb of Dakar,
> Senegal. The experience confirms one of Papert's central assumptions:
> children in remote, rural, and poor regions of the world take to computers
> as easily and naturally as children anywhere. These results will be
> validated in subsequent deployments in several countries, including
> Pakistan, Thailand, and Colombia." [*
> http://www.laptop.org/vision/progress/*]
> The project was the brainchild of French journalist and politician
> Jean-Jacques Servan-Schreiber, who convinced his friend François Mitterrand
> to create for him the Centre Mondial pour l'Informatique et les Resources
> Humaines. The idea, roughly, was to jumpstart pre-industrial societies into
> post-industrial ones through ubiquitous computers and forget the smokestacks
> part. Alan Kay was involved in early meetings and suggested Negroponte as
> head and Papert as chief scientist. The MIT Media Lab had just been
> officially approved and the building was under construction, so Nicholas
> accepted the appointment as an interim position. He brought with him some of
> the best and brightest from MIT to spend time in Paris.
> By most all accounts, it was a disaster. Alan Kay, who was at the time
> head of Atari Research, mentioned to me around then that things weren't
> going well. "Politics?" I asked. "No" replied Alan. "French politics."
> The earliest entry on the OLPC timeline is 1967, with the introduction of
> Papert's Logo programming language for children. Papert got his start with
> Swiss developmental psychologist Jean Piaget, who formalized the theory of
> constructivism, which is, without splitting hairs, that people learn by
> doing.
> This is all to say that OLPC may be geeky, but it's neither uninformed nor
> flippant.
> Cheers,
> *Michael Naimark
> **http://www.naimark.net*
> *Research Associate Professor, Interactive Media Division
> USC School of Cinematic Arts
> http://interactive.usc.edu*
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