[iDC] One Laptop Per Child - Intel Pulls Out.

Jeffrey Fisher jeff.jfisher at gmail.com
Tue Jan 8 18:57:57 UTC 2008

Okay, not to state the obvious, but isn't this the issue with
organizations,mainly for-profits but also at least a certain class of NGO,
playing such a central role in a project like OLPC? That is, the only answer
for Intel is a tiered offering -- OLPC the bottom rung at US$100 and theirs
at US$250 -- but then to sell it like that is to reinforce precisely the
hierarchizations--grounded in meritocratic understandings of disposable
income--that the OLPC machine is ostensibly meant to break down, and to have
to market it that way completely undercuts the positive glow of love Intel
is supposed to feel for contributing to OLPC. Conflict.
And so, what loses? Well, the cheaper machine, of course. So the market
absorbs the humanitarian effort, because, you know, there's no conflict
between making money and doing good. Except, well, we just saw that there
is. And so, at first blush, it sure looks like the US$100 machine will
vanish, and the US$250 machine will soldier on for the benefit of Intel and
humankind both. But I'm not a market analyst or anything, so maybe I'm
misunderstanding some critical aspects of the process and fallout, here.

I've stayed out of this conversation because mostly I get bored and wonder
if the critiques, which I believe are necessary, are being framed in such a
way as to have the best effect (whatever that is, which is also debatable,
but you can see how this starts to spiral out). And honestly, I can't
entirely make up my mind what I think about it, and can't even quite put my
finger on what's been giving me pause. Maybe this bit of news has clarified
that for me: at the end of the day, the very project itself is beholden to
individuals and organizations acting *at best* out of a questionable sense
of noblesse oblige, at worst for even more problematic reasons (both
theoretically or morally speaking and frankly practically speaking), and
that just is not sustainable in the long run.

Case in point, Intel's withdrawal.

There is much in this long and varied thread to applaud and to take issue
with, but I wonder if all parties wouldn't be better served to focus on
coming up with a better model of production and distribution. Even if it's
not adopted as such, it might provide guidance that imperialist critiques
(however well grounded, btw) do not.

I realize that I sound dismissive of whole swathes of argument, or maybe
even like I haven't even heard some of you who have been doing this in more
or less explicit or extensive ways, and I don't mean to, although I also
admit that there are times when my eyes have kind of glazed over. There is
weighty stuff, here, and if you ask me, resolution is difficult to come by.
But, and I say this as a very theoretically-oriented guy (give me zizek
instead of a plane ticket and hammer any day), I worry that feel too much
like we have accomplished more than the target of our critique after a few
rounds on a list like this.

I reckon the resources on this list might be able to actually get a project
underway, or to modify the OLPC project -- for example, is the answer to
Intel's withdrawal to try to sign on AMD? Or is it to do something
altogether different? I don't know yet. And maybe this isn't even the right
question, yet. But I am pretty sure that Intel's withdrawal is the symptom
of the deepest problem in the whole effort.



On 1/8/08, Patrick Lichty <voyd at voyd.com> wrote:
> As stated at:
> http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=17894663
> Morning Edition, January 7, 2008 · An ambitious project to create a cheap
> laptop for the developing world is running into problems. Intel, one of
> the
> major sponsors of the One Laptop Per Child project, is pulling out. The
> project and the company could not agree on how a rival product from Intel
> would be marketed.
> In 2005, MIT professor Nicholas Negroponte announced the effort to design
> a
> $100 laptop. The project was aimed at schools in the developing world, but
> it has hit a few snags. The latest was Intel's decision to withdraw.
> The split arose because Intel and Negroponte's group could not agree on
> how
> Intel would market a rival product that sells for around $250.
> Officials with the One Laptop Per Child project claim their laptops
> provide
> vast educational benefits.
> But many foreign governments, the computer's target clientele, aren't
> buying. The millions of orders needed to reduce the price to $100 never
> materialized. That said, there are pilot projects in some countries, says
> Wayan Vota, editor of OLPCNews.com.
> "Right now we have a lot of reports of children really excited about their
> laptops, children enjoying their laptops and playing with them," Vota
> said.
> "But we don't have any reports that this play and enjoyment is
> transferring
> into real learned knowledge and real growth and development of the child,"
> Vota said. "And that's really the key metric Negroponte needs to show to
> have OLPC grow and take off with the developing world."
> Even if the $100 laptop project doesn't succeed, it has already made an
> impact. Today, there are many other companies from Silicon Valley to East
> Asia making laptops that cost less than $400.
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