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Not Prince Hamlet

"Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse."

A Hand-Cranked Computer for The Least of These

Friday, January 27, 2006



I've seen a couple of magazine blurbs about this plan, and today the AP is running a story about the UN"s participation. Basically, a guy named Negroponte from the MIT Media Lab has a plan to distribute a ton of these $100 laptop computers to school-age children in developing countries. The computers are to have wireless internet capability and a hand-crank for power. The initiative is being called One Laptop Per Child.

I'm interested in what people think about this. My first thought is Technopoly. That's the important book by media critic Neil Postman that sets forth the thesis that technologies carry an agenda. A new technology, be it a printing press or a microchip, has an inherent agenda to accomplish a certain kind of change in the way the people who use it think and relate to the world.

So this is what I'm working through in my head about this initiative: are these $100 laptops as much a way to spur development in the "under-developed" world as they are a (perhaps un-intentional) way of spreading a certain western and technological way of thinking and relating to the world in children across the globe?

Does that make sense?
posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 7:24 AM

9 Comments:

What's this site's agenda? What was Postman's agenda with his book? Can we live in a world with no agendas? Would it be monotonous? Should our goal be to eliminate agendas or sift through them for usefulness to our own lives and use them as food for thought and fodder for discussion? Is it bad to have an agenda? Will I be lost if I don't have an agenda? Have I asked enough questions? Should I ask more?

As always...I'm still Ryno.
commented by Blogger Ryno, 9:05 AM  
I freakin' love Ryno. There is, of course, no world without agendas. But new technologies present themselves as objective and neutral, as simply new ways of doing new things. But those new ways and things fundamentally aim to change the way we relate to the world. We should know what that change will do.

What is this blog's agenda? That's a great question. And, while I would love to tell you the answer, I can't; 'cause then I'd have to kill you.
commented by Blogger Rocky, 10:15 AM  
I think the crank laptop is a great idea. Particularly in education, in this country, there are the have's and have not's and that lends itself to a VERY uneven playing field. I think too often we don't jump in the rushing river and get left behind (not that it is always good to do so), but in this case, with technology, I believe a HUGE void is being created by those with tech and those without...it isn't going away, so we need to figure out how to not only keep up, but help balance the playing field!
commented by Blogger Michael, 4:27 PM  
As best I understand it, the laptops will be going to school-age children in "developing" countries. But the question, I think, is not should they or should they not get them; the question is, rather, what's really at stake in the effort to spread affordable computer technology to children in poverty? What might fundamentally change about those children as a result, beyond the assumed elevation of their socio-economic capability? What might be irrevocably changed about the cultures in which the computers are disseminated?
commented by Blogger Rocky, 4:37 AM  
Of course that's the real question behind it all, what makes us think these children, or their society, want or need computers or technology? Being Americans the answer is most likely, "because we can give it to them...who wouldn't want it?"

I once had a long, long discussion with a physics professor that started when I asked him this question: "what if you traveled to a distant land and met a civilization that has been living and working off the idea that all things are held on the planet by magnetic fields in the cells of each item?" His response was, "of course, I would educate them about the Earth's rotation and gravity. I would tell them the truth." From there it took off with me arguing that these people had created a very well functioning society, at least as far as they were concerned, with their own science and ideas. Who were we to claim our brand of beliefs, even under the label of "science", were "the truth" or were right for everyone?

In the end the conclusion we agreed on was, exposure to something doesn't force you to accept it and adopt it. The more you have to sample the wiser your decisions become. So, in my humble opinion, it's only wrong to provide "developing" nations with crank laptops if we then try to force them to use them and love them like a little brother with freckles.

This, of course doesn't answer the two other questions we have here: 1. As Michael asks, why aren't we giving these computers to our own children?
And #2 - When Rocky says he loves me, is he trying to force his agenda on me?
commented by Blogger Ryno, 8:16 AM  
Not to plug my blog, but I continued this thought a bit over there. http://notokanymore.blogspot.com/
commented by Blogger Michael, 12:58 PM  
My love is my agenda, playah.

I love this. I just got done reading Douglas Rushkoff's "Social Currency" chapter in GET BACK IN THE BOX. He makes the case that the agenda of internet technology is to connect people with one another. And that's exactly what this is about; blogging technology could give me the ability to publish ideas and questions to the internet and that would be fine. But the real money is in the ability of the Ryno's and the Michael's of the world to read it, comment on it, disagree with it, or chastise it.

That's the appeal. At least to me and people like me.

But will the appeal and the agenda be different for kids in developing countries. Here's my early theory: as a nation with abundant material currency, we need technology to help us develop "social" currency, the ability to connect with other people. But I don't think a society that already is rich in social currency will flounder without material currency. In fact, material currency to a large extent depends upon social currency.

Does that make sense?
commented by Blogger Rocky, 2:00 PM  
It makes perfect sense. What you are saying is that material currency has the danger to create a huge lack of social currency (maybe even replace it altogether.)

It's already happening in America. You're concerned this will happen in developing countries, maybe even before they have the opportunity to see the value in social currency in the first place. That social currency is a valuable commodity.

Do we want the rest of the world to turn out like us?
commented by Blogger stephanie, 10:07 PM  
I think it is definitely a fine balance. I would argue that up until about 15 - 20 years ago the balance was fine. Last time I looked, this isn't too bad of a place to live. I've traveled around the world, and there isn't a place jumping out at me that I'd rather move to. And I'm not some proud to be an American singin' guy either. I think that if done right, the social and material (I would call it capitalistic) currencies can work off each other. As most history, the pendulum swings back and forth. I tend to think we are swinging the materialistic way, just like we did in the late 60's and 70s. But it did swing back in the latter 70s and 80s but now we are swinging back again. Wow you would think I like swinging or something:) Anyway, I do agree with Rocky in that the materialistic nature could definitely be a hindrance to a forming society...
commented by Blogger Michael, 11:07 PM  

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