Why Tech Journalists Don’t Get Negraponte’s OLPC (aka the $100 Laptop)

I’m pretty used to Fox or MSNBC or CNN getting Negroponte’s OLPC (One Laptop per Child) program wrong. But it amazes me when someone like Lee Felsenstien, one of the pioneering designers at the beginning of the PC revolution, gets it wrong. Then for those like Dvorak, the OLPC is little more than the punch-line to a joke about 3rd World Porn.

Cranky Geeks, Episode 75 (7/31/07)

pcburning They don’t get it the way “Baby-boomers” don’t get Rap Music, ’cause it was never meant for them. Hell, I didn’t get it or even care much about it until a bit over a year ago when I was at Negroponte’s keynote at an ISTE convention during which he explained that he had started down this road by taking generic PC laptops to a Cambodian village and immediately discovered how dependent these little devices are on easy access to a gigantic technology service industry that’s been growing in the Developed World for the past 30 plus years. Essentially they discovered that computer hardware without inexpensive retail support is virtually worthless. We are so used to having easy access to CompUSA… er, I mean, Fry’s and Best Buy that we tend to think about technology in terms of the individual little devices instead of seeing them as only part of a much larger technological eco-system. Simply put, generic PCs grew up in an economic environment of continual change and a commodity mentality toward hardware and software. They are designed to satisfy now and then to be easily replaced every three to five years. After the experiences in Cambodia Negroponte and his team set about to design a device not meant for Culver City but meant for places without all of this consumer-oriented “buy now” infrastructure. Little wonder, then, that the techno-pundits don’t get it. They can’t see the OLPC selling, except as a novelty, at the local Apple Store or Best Buy. But it was never meant to replace your Alienware or iMac.

typingkid The next place where the pundits miss the mark is that they seem to not understand that the goal of getting one laptop into the hands of every child on the planet is not to create an army of little Microsoft Office gurus. The roots of the OLPC go back to MIT’s Media Lab and Seymour Papert, where they discovered that if you teach children how to program they learn how to communicate, how to think, and how to problem-solve. MIT figured out that one does not replace the teacher with the tool but this tool, programming, can be an incredibly powerful catalyst toward real learning.

Click on “read the rest” link for an awesome OPLC video

babylaptop I laughed when I heard one tech-journalist speculate that the OLPC would be good for farmers trying to keep track of their livestock. That reminded me of the lame ads in the 80s touting how the powerful $2,000 Kaypro transportable computer could help Susie Homemaker organize her cooking recipes. The OLPC is meant to help students become better thinkers, empowering them to learn, to produce, and to not become simple technology consumers. Alas, our culture is all about consuming technology such that we entirely miss how powerful and world changing this device can become. Most of us, myself included, are entirely at the mercy of Apple or Microsoft or Adobe to keep giving us new technology trinkets and we completely miss how world-changing this can become as this next generation of generally disenfranchised children take control of their technological and thus change the world. Intel, Microsoft and Apple have a great deal to worry about if millions of children begin to produce for themselves and in turn begin to have a much better grasp on this power that we would use chiefly to find a cheaper pair of shoes or to ogle at a stranger’s breasts. JBB

Here’s something to thing about…