Let them have laptops
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The extraordinary power of technology is so plainly evident in everyday life that nobody needs to be persuaded about its ability to transform human society — for better or worse. The World Wide Web and the mobile phone network are only two of the more visible products of the revolution in the information and communications technology. Unfortunately, it is easy to be seduced by the notion that technology is the answer to all problems. The truth is that technology can only address the technical aspects of a problem. If it is a sociological problem, for instance, technological solutions won't help and may in fact make the problem worse.
A high profile contemporary example of an inappropriate technical intervention is the XO laptop promoted by the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) project headed by the celebrated technologist and former head of MIT Media Lab, Nicholas Negroponte. The grand vision is to assist in the education of children in developing economies by providing each child at government expense with a laptop created especially for that purpose.
The XO is a technological masterpiece of good design and fabrication. It costs around US$200 and has features suitable for use by children. It consumes power frugally, can withstand rough use, and can be used in hot and dusty environments. However, the OLPC promoters claim that it is not a laptop project but rather it is about education. Their goal is to bridge the digital divide so that children in poorer parts of the world can also have access to the digital educational resources through the Internet.
The poor of the world are on the wrong side of many divides, not just the digital divide. There are numerous other divides —nutrition, health-care, basic education, infant mortality, even safe drinking water. All these divides are rooted in the greater underlying divide we can call the income divide. Fixing the income divide involves economics. The most significant flaw of the OLPC is that it ignores basic economics.
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