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

Dmitry Strakovsky 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.

Some thoughts:

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  
custom hardware.

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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