02 June 2006

The New Development is Orange with Bunny Ears

I just found out about the One Laptop per Child project on Slashdot. An excellent summary of the latest model can be found here. The basic concept is to make a cheap, highly functional, low-end laptop to be purchased in bulk by governments for use in schools, particularly in third world countries. For countries without a power grid, some sort of human power generator (foot pump, or hand crank maybe) would be provided. These laptops will perform all the basic functions of our "obese" laptops, except for massive data storage. Besides basic word processing and internet capability, built-in functions include wireless access, the ability to easily form ad hoc networks, microphones and speakers for chat and music, a tablet-PC-like mode, and durability. At a price of about $100 each, schools might soon be able to afford to check out laptops to students each year. Plus, it looks so cool: orange with bunny ears indeed.

Some may wonder why people are even concerned with access to laptops in countries where basic needs are not always met. I actually think that this is one of the best things for development that I have seen in years. I wrote a topic booklet for RHSMUN a while back on this very subject: access to modern technology is often better at increasing a country's development status than direct efforts. According to the World Bank's 1998/1999 World Development Report, the countries that saw massive increases in development status from the 70's to the 90's (Singapore, Korea, and other Asian nations) focused on their population's acquisition, education, and production of modern technology.

In other words, it is a huge mistake to think that a country must pass through all previous technological states before arriving at modernity, that once they address basic needs they will catch-up. One of the new buzz words in development is "leap-frogging": with the invention of wireless technologies, many less developed nations can skip over the expensive infrastructure of analog and go straight to wireless. By getting modern technology into the hands of the children in these countries, we greatly increase their earning power in the modern world, and thus their ability to help their country grow. It's the "teach a man to fish" philosophy in action! It feels so completely empowering.

Or perhaps this project simply appeals to me because the idea of each student having a laptop reminds me a lot of the "desks" in Ender's Game. :D

1 comment:

bawb said...

Wow, that's the nerdiest post I've ever read.

(I excitedly scurried off to Wikipedia: $100 laptop upon reading that in Slashdot. It really is a thrilling idea.)