There has been some debate about the merits of the $100 Laptop/One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) project. In one of his recent commentaries, Bill Thompson chides John Dvorak for “dismissing the laptop as a ‘little green computer’ that changes nothing, and arguing that sending food aid to Africa is a better way to solve the continent’s problems.” There are some complaints about the project, but as Thompson points out Dvorak’s criticism is rather simplistic. More legitimate concerns are raised by Bruce Nussbaum such as the lessons plans on the laptop’s incompatibility with the local country’s curriculum, the hidden costs behind the project such as repairs and unforeseen consequences.

As Thompson indicates “the point is not that computers or internet access are as important as clean water, good healthcare, effective education and safe housing. It is that access to computers and the network can make it simpler and easier to deliver those other things.” An example I’m fond of using is Iqbal Quadir’s talk ‘The power of the mobile phone to end poverty‘:

He recalls an incident in his childhood when a younger sibling was sick. Iqbal was sent to the doctor by his mother and trekked for half a day only to find that the doctor was not in and had to spend the other half of his day returning home without the medicine he was sent for. He highlights the fact that if his village had a mobile phone, they could simply have called the doctor and not wasted an entire day. Looking back on this experience in later life, Iqbal realised that connectivity is productivity. To highlight this he argues that if you counted up the number of similar incidents that could have been prevented due to the lack of technology, you would see the vast amount of resources wasted.

What I find of interest is what impact the OLPC users and other potential web browsers from developing countries will have on the future of the Internet. Michael Geist’s recent op-ed on the BBC website is worth reading in this context. There are plenty of factors to consider such as the impact on ecommerce, what type of devices the next billion surfers might use to access the net, as well as issues such as free speech and censorship.


One Response to “Where will the $100 laptop will take us?”  

  1. 1 Alan O'Rourke

    No one knows what the impact will be. You can debate it round and round in circles or you can go out there and try something. I don’t believe there is any one solution to the worlds problems but a combination and only by trying something and looking at the effects can we begin to move closer. I love that the one laptop project is trying something different and they should be applauded for it. Sure it might not work but then it just might. Criticism is also good though, it helps focus the mind 🙂

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