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

davin heckman davinheckman at gmail.com
Wed Jan 2 19:23:56 UTC 2008


I don't think that criticism/critical thinking/creation is an all or
nothing proposition.  I think what people are doing here are acting
out in a relatively rarefied way more general cultural concerns about
technology, culture, and economics.  These kinds of discussions are
entiely necessary, especially in light of the history of imperialism
which was an undemocratic process that had drastic consequences for
real people.

For my part, I would not question Negroponte's intentions.  Every word
of his that I have ever read indicates that he is an intelligent
utopian seeking to make lives better....  and he has the will and
resources to do it.  But I do think it is fair to rigorously critique
a project like OLPC.

The world is desperate for solutions to problems (economic, social,
environmental, etc).  We are so conditioned to accept that a
technology can solve the problem that we run a real risk of not
thinking things through, putting up hedges, or even waiting.  And
though we live in an age of perpetual crisis in which every aspect of
freedom is nullifiable due to the hypothetical ticking time bomb
scenario...  usually hesitation and reflection are good.

One recent example:  The internal combustion engine, fueled by
gasoline.  Now, people are desperate for "energy independence,"
"renewable resources," and "carbon-neutral fuels"....  so we use
ethanol.  Now the price of corn is going through the roof.  People may
very well starve to death over some poor decisions.  Or, maybe people
will die because of wars and global warming and repressive
governments.  GMOs.  In response to rising corn prices, seed companies
are pushing for GM crops to solve the resulting hunger problem.  How
will this effect farmers?  Public health?  The security of the food

I am troubled by this tendency among very smart people to throw out
lines of criticism because they seem obvious or cliched...  as if
criticism needs to be sophisticated or aesthetically elegant.  We need
to start with simple questions....  even if they might be construed as
"marxist" or "luddite" or "positivist" or "logocentric" or
"chauvinistic" or "christian" or whatever.  These kinds of questions
become cliches because they can be found useful in a number of

Assessing the ethical merits of OLPC based on intentions is just not
good enough.  Judging Carnegie's railroad business based on the
libraries he built is not quite sufficient either.  I think it is
possible to both admire Carnegie's contributions to the health and
happiness of the poor...  and to question his business and labor
practices at the same time.  While I am convinced that Negroponte and
his many collaborators have taken great care to create a device which
seeks to democratize the new media revolution in powerful ways...  it
is also true that there are some questions and problems that lists
like this are built to anticipate.  And maybe these discussions can
create an atmosphere of reflectivity that will lead to more purposeful


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