[iDC] One Laptop Per Child - MIT/Negroponte Initiative
dima at shiftingplanes.org
Thu Jan 3 20:25:26 UTC 2008
I think at issue in the whole OLPC discussion (at least for me :) is
the assertion that technocrats KNOW how things are supposed to work
and somehow can magically TRANSFER this knowledge to the rest of the
world. If there is a lesson in the often misquoted and and rather
obtuse pomo philosophy it is that in the process of TRANSFER things
take their most relevant shape. That's the part that is messy,
obnoxious, smelly and entirely un-techy! (ok... maybe not smelly)
To quote the OLPC site: "Beginning with Seymour Papert's simple
observation that children are knowledge workers like any adult, only
more so, we decided they needed a user-interface tailored to their
specific type of knowledge work: learning."
ahhhmmm... I am young enough to remember LOGO being crammed down my
cranial cavity. I was doing just fine with BASIC and was starting to
look into assembly code for 2E and then BAM! Class you must use this
new and improved tool. For my twelve year old brain it definitely was
not an easier paradigm/interface to master: I didn't ask for any
fuzzy bunnies or turtles :) Someone was definitely dictating to me
how I should best learn instead of trying to create a diological
relationship with a community of young learners.
So far most of the discussion on the OLPC website is VERY tech
centered. One has to dig a bit to find pages dealing with on-site
These are still a bit too North America and tech heavy but at least
it's kinda pointing towards the process of transfer.
1. If this is a Linux-based project why not send out a bunch of
programmers with old crappy laptops to developing countries, get them
to try some programming on-site, collaborate with the local
population and develop interface metaphors that best suit each
locale. Then integrate and solidify this experience in a piece of
2. Bring in a Blackwater consultant to shed light on how this laptop
can potentially be "re-purposed" by the military powers that be.
3. Bring in cultural anthropologists to monitor and advise in the
process. This really needs to be a long term study, not an addendum
to a business plan. Monitor kids into adulthood, see the push and the
pull in their relationship to the tech they are presented with.
4. Offer financial incentives to teachers who want to incorporate the
laptops into classrooms. I know from personal experience in US,
teachers are much slower then their students in actually learning how
to use the latest tech. Teachers need to take time and learn and time
is money in our capitalist society :)
Maybe all this has already been done. Maybe not. These types of
ideas however, are not reflected in the documentation on the website.
Another statement from the website:
"Initial focus is on the launch of the One Laptop per Child program.
In the future, the OLPC Foundation will focus on the grassroots,
“bottom-up” aspects of the OLPC mission."
WHAT!? First we go top down and then we go bottom up. I am all sorts
of confused here.
It could be that the program is presenting itself poorly or it could
be that they are following same pattern that so many non-for-profits
are caught up in in USA (I don't pretend to know anything about other
countries.) You can, relatively easily, write a grant to get a bunch
of computers, but it's disproportionately harder to write a grant to
hire someone to actually take care of the equipment. My guess, and
this is just a guess, is that people-effect is harder to quantify so,
unless we are talking about academic endowed chairmanship, donors
don't want to deal with anything this messy, obnoxious, smelly and
entirely un-techy :)
Dmitry (Dima) Strakovsky
Assistant Professor of Intermedia
University of Kentucky
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