Monday, December 12, 2005

NYTimes on the 100 dollar laptop

Negroponte's baby, the 100 dollar laptop -- aka the OLPC -- made it to 'The year in ideas' of the New York Times Magazine. I can comment on the story's headline ('the laptop that will save the world'), but I will pass on that.

After saying glowing things about the technological wizardry that has gone into designing this laptop (accompanied by pictures that make you go 'Oh, it's so lovely'), it gets to airing some of the criticisms and potential problems.

Of course, the real computing mother lode is the Internet, to which few developing-world users have access. But the M.I.T. laptops will offer wireless peer-to-peer connections that create a local network. As long as there's an Internet signal somewhere in the network area - and making sure that's the case, even in rural areas, poses a mighty challenge - everyone can get online and use a built-in Web browser. Theoretically, even children in a small African village could have "access to more or less all libraries of the world," Negroponte says. (That's probably not very useful to children who can't read or understand foreign languages.) His team is already in talks with several foreign governments, including those of Egypt, Brazil and Thailand, about bulk orders. ...

NYTimes should have said further -- but doesn't -- that almost all of the marketing strategy seems to be directed at getting the poor countries themselves to fork out big money to buy these laptops. Their governments cannot even order a small number of them (for example, as a pilot program); a 'bulk' order must be for at least a million laptops.

... millions of children with little exposure to modern civilization will suddenly have access to all the commercialism, idiocy, hate-mongering and pornography the Internet has to offer. Some critics have also complained that wealthy donors should concentrate more on less glamorous projects like stamping out malaria before trying to give every child an e-mail address. ...

Now, the last sentence in the above quote is really curious. When most of the money is to come from poor countries themselves, who cares about the 'wealthy donors'? [Sure, it would be nice if their contributions also go towards 'less glamorous projects' ...]. In other words, the complaints raised by 'some critics' are indeed valid, but directed at the wrong people! If these critics direct some of their complaints and concerns at the principal buyers of the laptops (the governments of poor countries), it will be a great help.

What doesn't help, is this sloppy report by the New York Times.


  1. Anonymous said...

    This Thanksgiving big box stores were hawking $199 laptops. $100 big deal!

  2. Abi said...

    That's amazing, Shiva. Is this a one-off thing for this holiday season?

    Anyways, is the low-cost laptop being received with 'duh!' in the US? It is not the sense I get from news outlets and blogs.

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