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

Alexis Turner subbies at redheadedstepchild.org
Wed Jan 2 19:07:24 UTC 2008

You are right, insofar as it is worthwhile and important to always look 
critically at the choices we make, but you have set the bar far too high.  To 
use, in your words, a measurement/goal of "first do no harm" is simply 
impossible, and if we were, in fact, to attempt this as an actual rubric, we 
would simply paralyze ourselves and nothing would ever get done again.  EVER.

Realistically, NOTHING is "neutral" (to use another term which has cropped up 
multiple times in this conversation).  Your concern about using a 
non-"innocent" technology is meaningless.  NOTHING is without effect, both ill 
and positive.  The trick, then, is not to worry about every possible thing that 
can go wrong, but to pragmatically assess what can realistically go wrong and what 
can realistically go right and then make a decision based on that.  Does the 
good outweight the harm?  This is the only question worth asking.  Period.  
And don't kid yourselves.  There WILL be good.  There WILL be harm.

As far as this initiative, the trick to avoiding cultural imperialism or 
whatever word of the day you want to avoid is to *give recipients choices*.  I 
actually liked the Carnegie analogy a lot, because the thing about creating 
libraries is that you give those communities CHOICES.  An individual can CHOOSE 
to go to a library, or they can choose to forgo  the experience.  But you are 
not FORCING anything on the community.  You are not GUARANTEEING that people 
will flock from the communities.  You are not driving people away.  You are 
giving them tools to make those decisions for themselves.

The One Laptop project may or may not cause many people in rural communities to 
leave.  But, truthfully, many youth are ALREADY leaving.  And, quite frankly, 
NOTHING more culturally imperialistic that insisting that rural individuals 
maintain their bucolic lifestyle because of some perverted, *European* Romantic 
notion of native life and savages, and how wonderful and lovely and important 
those "pure" cultures are.

That said, the initiative is not some sort of godsend, and it will not be all 
rainbows and kittens.  Just like real life.  It will bring both positive and 
negative changes to these communities, and it is up to the communities to 
decide whether they want them or not.  If they make the right choice, good on 
them.  If they make the wrong choice, well, that is life.

On Wed, 2 Jan 2008, David Golumbia wrote:

::Date: Wed, 2 Jan 2008 12:45:31 -0500 (EST)
::From: David Golumbia <dg6n at unix.mail.virginia.edu>
::To: idc at mailman.thing.net
::Subject: Re: [iDC] FW:  One Laptop Per Child - MIT/Negroponte Initiative
::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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