Monday, January 01, 2007

Third-World Laptops

Over a year ago I wrote about the proposal to give scaled-down laptops to Third World children across the planet. These laptops will improve education, promote understanding, and cure the world's ills--and now they're ready to be released to the dumplings.

I wrote then, and I still believe, the following:

You think these mini-computers will "address the world's education problems"? There's the difference--I don't. Computers haven't addressed the education problems here in the US, where computers are much more ubiquitous than they ever will be in the bush of Africa or the forests of southern Asia or Brazil.


I wrote that in response to a person who said he/she hated me because I think this idea, while nice enough, is certainly misguided. Hate, because I don't see how giving these novelties to poor children will improve their lives in any meaningful way. The capacity of liberals to hate shouldn't amaze me anymore, but it still does.

But on to the story.

But the main design motive was the project's goal of stimulating education better than previous computer endeavors have. Nicholas Negroponte, who launched the project at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Media Lab two years ago before spinning One Laptop into a separate nonprofit, said he deliberately wanted to avoid giving children computers they might someday use in an office.

"In fact, one of the saddest but most common conditions in elementary school computer labs (when they exist in the developing world), is the children are being trained to use Word, Excel and PowerPoint," Negroponte wrote in an e-mail interview. "I consider that criminal, because children should be making things, communicating, exploring, sharing, not running office automation tools."


Ah yes, exploring and sharing. Not learning, but exploring and sharing. These so-called progressives never give up.

I wonder if he'll keep his word here:

"I have to laugh when people refer to XO as a weak or crippled machine and how kids should get a 'real' one," Negroponte wrote. "Trust me, I will give up my real one very soon and use only XO. It will be far better, in many new and important ways."


Yes, all of us in the developed world want laptops without hard drives. The operating system may be nifty, and he may very well like that, but no hard drive? Sorry, Nicky, I'm not buying it.

Not buying it? Get it? These are computers that are supposed to be given to poor children! Get it? Sometimes I slay myself.

17 comments:

Anonymous said...

I agree with your assessment, however I still do not feel that it overshadows the fact that 3rd world countries can be helped by technology. It is not a cure-all band-aid though.

That's for sure.

Pseudotsuga said...

Negroponte feels or thinks that "children should be making things, communicating, exploring, sharing, not running office automation tools?"
I suspect that the vast majority of people who actually USE computers are running office automation tools. Just what Negroponte means by "making things" on computers is pretty vague. Is he referring to CAD/CAM programs? High end graphics programs? In either case, his dumbed-down hardware won't work.
By communicating, I assume he means email, instant messaging, or perhaps Myspace--these are, after all, what the vast majority of children seem to already do on/with computers. These actions require internet access, which Negroponte will give away free, since he cares so much about these children, right?
And just what does he mean by "exploring and sharing?" Does he realize that to many kids those actions means exploring and sharing files, such as porn, MP3s, or even "warez"? Surely he must be advocating something different from those actions...

David said...

Michael Schrage, who knows a great deal about technology and its applications, has some thoughts on the use of computers in the classroom.

I think there are certainly useful things that can be done with computers in elementary education, in the third world as well as here. But to get anything worthwhile accompished, it's necessary to engage in detailed thinking about exactly how the tools will be used. Anyone who things that just handing out the computer is enough is engaging in underpants-gnome thinking.

Darren said...

Underpants-gnome? That's a new one for me!

Darren said...

David, excellent link.

David said...

Underpants-gnomes: a South Park episode in which the gnomes had a three-phase plan:

1)Collect underpants
3)Make big profit

Phase 2 was left undefined, as in certain business plans....

Anonymous said...

I think the effort is totally misdirected. The placement of computers in elementary schools, especially in the primary grades, is no guarantee of success. In fact most of the programs used with primary students are nothing more than glorified flash cards. I think the cost of the program would better serve filling a library or providing smaller classes and more qualified teachers. While secondary students do need to access the information highway, in my experience my well connected students spend far more time on their own websites with email and chatting than they do with meaningful research. If that is what the well meaning but delusional want in the Third World, then more power to them. On the other hand, I think it would have far more impact to teach reading and math with clear understanding while protecting the teachers who attempt to bring these nations to the 21st century from beheading at the hands of religiously inspired nutjobs.

John S. said...

Darren: “The capacity of liberals to hate shouldn't amaze me anymore, but it still does.”

Certainly. And good for you to be amazed still. Yet, liberals do not have a monopoly on hate. I, personally—and in my own experience mind you—have never seen more hate than in the eyes of a conservative—especially a Christian teenager holding up a sign calling for the banning of gay marriage (and get this, the sign said “Don’t brainwash our youth.” Laughter provided my only defense from crumbling under the weight of the irony when I saw the sign). Perhaps people, paradigms, theories, beliefs, etc are more bipolar than dual. More specifically, people, or political philosophies, are not necessarily either good or bad, but are fully capable of both. Yet, as a Christian conservative, I understand you see the world in dualities. Correct? Therefore, I could only ASSUMME you truly believe liberals are hateful and their political philosophy is really intended to set up a totalitarian regime. I think such notions are not very coherent or reasonable, but, as usual, I likely read too much into your statement and seized the moment to rant about something in which no one cares about. I think your amazement actually speaks to your desire to not want to see hate in liberals and a clear understanding the two do not necessarily include each other—or at least not the person but maybe the political philosophy is still bad for you. Right? Your experience shows to me, as vice versa with mine, you have encountered many hateful liberals.

Darren said...

What makes you think I'm a Christian?

But more to the point. I don't think liberals necessarily *want* totalitarianism, although some certainly do--as long as they're the ones at the top of the food chain. I understand that, though, because if there's to be totalitarianism, *I* certainly want to be at the top of the food chain! But while they may not *want* totalitarianism, that's the end result of their liberal philosphies. When the government controls everything--where and how you work, whom you can hire and fire, how much you get paid, how much and what kind of health care you can receive--isn't what you can say and think only a step away? Look at Europe for proof. Even the Brits don't have a 1st Amendment.

allen said...

Liberals don't want totalitarianism? Nonsense. Of course they do and the proof is in overt control of speech and thought wherever they can exercise that control and implied in the use of the phrase "the masses" from whom they implicitly exclude themselves.

One of my major beefs with OLPC is the monarchic. "pearls before the swine" design philosophy.

An MIT paladin, peaking over the Mount Olympus railing, has decided what poor children need. The vantage point and the thin air obviate the value of proximity or so the hope goes. For less tractable considerations like theft there's the eye-poppingly naive measure of a "theft-proof" color along with the ever-reliable lock-and-key.

But what finally ends up in front of the kids? Well, no one's really sure. There are text books for which the OLPC becomes a duplication/transmission medium. There are programming environments like Squeak which provide the tools to allow desperately poor children to become computer programmers - please, contain yourselves. There's a good deal of thought given to user interface, power management, ruggedness and maintainability. What there isn't is a clear path from "here", the uneducated present the target audience of the OLPC lives in, and a future of computer-mediated, -facilitated and -enhanced education or any clear understanding of how to get there.

This is a situation in which starting the journey is more important then the means, the destination or even determining whether destination has been reached.

John S. said...

Darren: “What makes you think I'm a Christian?”

Your evocation of God in a Christian context. From the few months I looked back into under the archives section of your blog, examples include posts and following comments on August 27, 2006 and June 30, 2006. Perhaps you are not. You do say things wherein my assumption received its fuel. Yet, I am sorry if I offended you. Please do not take my guess as an insult. I guess I incorrectly called a club a spade.

As for the resurfacing totalitarian comments, which I mentioned first I know, I refer back to our dialogue on your December 02, 2006 post on “Liberals.”

You conclusion is what confuses me. Precisely, everything from “When the government controls everything” to “Even the Brits don't have a 1st Amendment.” I will begin with the last part. Who cares about Britain? Sure, they are a democratic and western nation. Nevertheless, they are not a mirror for comparison with the United States—even twins have telling differences. While certainly similar, the US and Britain have differing moral philosophies, political philosophies, etc. etc. They are a similar but a different culture so what the British succeed and fail at is unique to them. Contextualization, at least for me, is not only applicable to time, but also current cultures. (To call off the rightwingprof attack dog before he bites, relativism has nothing to do with what I just said—lest you fail to understand the concept—I usually do, really!).

I will again point back to my latter comments on your December 02, 2006 posting in regards to your Hobbeian disdain and suspicion for large government—i.e. conservatives as diverse as Lincoln and Regan understood the need for a large (and controlling) government. Finally, with statements like “isn't what you can say and think only a step away” is what really confuses me. Same goes for Allen’s comments after yours, specifically this conceptual gem: “Liberals don't want totalitarianism? Nonsense. Of course they do and the proof is in overt control of speech and thought wherever they can exercise that control and implied in the use of the phrase ‘the masses’ from whom they implicitly exclude themselves.”

I bet both of you never thought this would happen, but I am going to say you two sound like Marxists. Specifically, you capture the Marxist spirit of Gramsci and, especially, Foucault (Orwellian). No doubt, the evil lurking in the background is not Capitalism for you two, however, your fear of the controlling government, which goes beyond Hobbeian fears, include government control over thought as if you are quoting authoritatively from Marxist dogmas and are preaching against a government on the verge of cultural hegemony and power. Such notions are what confuse me. At some point, the “paladins” of intellectualism and liberals have been reduced to mere symbols—particularly evil symbols of hate, totalitarianism, and coercion. Sorry, but I see, like Marx, Foucault, and Gramsci, a lot of discounting of good intentions—a lot of anger in all this. Nothing a liberal could do is motivated by humanitarian reasons, and perhaps worse, never results in true democracy, freedom, liberty, and equality. I see a difference between traditional anti-large bureaucracy sentiments and villainous liberals—but that is for me—and I am not the brightest star. Indeed, liberalism and the intellectual elite are, seemingly, villainous in your estimations—you are, seemingly, Marxist sympathizers.

Darren said...

I'm not offended by being called a Christian, but neither do I think you should assume such things.

However, to call me a Marxist? You've lost all contact with reality on that one.

John S. said...

Ha. You are likely right. The Marxist tag is not too far off in my little fragile world. Well, maybe it is, I do not want too assume too much anymore. It is just the term is misunderstood and been turned negative. I do not use it in such a way. Plus, you are not so much Marxist as neo-Marxist, as evidenced by comparisons to Gramsci and Foucault. Likewise, gospel writers, especially Luke, have been seen as "communist." But then again, to have elements of any one thought does not mean you agree with the entire philosophy. I believe it is wrong to murder and cheat on your spouse, but I am not Jewish or Christian. I was just going for the dramatic as Allen's wonderful prose insired me to do so.

John S. said...

Just to clairfy, in some Peter like moment, are you Christian? I am not. I love the blog and the dialouge even if I disagree.

Darren said...

I'll keep my religion to myself. It's my politics I choose to share.

John S. said...

I applaud such, however, how do you keep your spiritual philosophy separate from your politic philosophy? It has seemingly leaked through, rather clearly—for me that is, and shown a great spiritual, decidedly Christian oriented, viewpoint. Why not stand up and be proud? Whether discussing God in state constitutions or other instances, your (apparent) spirituality affects (even if minor) your comments and posts for the last few years as evidenced in your blog’s archive. Still, American privatism, whether economic, political, moral, or social, is a cherished right and I respect such. In sum, it makes no difference—only curious (I too cherish the animonity the blogosphere provides us). Regardless, I like your blog, and though I disagree with you most the time, I like your blog/internet personality and identity. Your willingness to allow me to post serves my own selfish reasons for being here—to challenge myself and better articulate (to my satisfaction alone) my thoughts and beliefs. Thank you.

Do your (high school?) students read your blog?

Darren said...

A couple of former students read and comment on this blog. A couple of current students have commented here, and only one of them recently. I'm sure there are a couple that read but don't comment, or perhaps comment anonymously.

So, what, maybe a half-dozen?