Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Wired News: Laptop Detractors Shrugged Off

Wired News: Laptop Detractors Shrugged Off

I'm a little worried about this effort. On the surface, and from a Western perspective, this seems like a good solution to the digital divide. However, if you look at similar past programs, they have become seriously problematic. I'm thinking in particular of the early drive to bring mechanized agriculture to smallholders, resulting in rusting tractor carcases strewn about the developing world or sold on the black market; of the mosquito net distribution issue that resulted in black market use of the nets rather than home use to prevent malaria. Of course, having people purchase the computers will avert some of the potential value problems, but even at $50, they will be far out of the reach of those at the 'bottom of the pyramid'. Furthermore, who is going to service all those computers? I'm sure that Negroponte doesn't expect teachers and aid workers to become the help desk for all these devices, and they will break, many of them the first time they are used.

It seems to me that all this money would be better spent improving teaching skills and educational materials and infrastructure and access to education, especially for girls, rather than on a device of questionable value.

3 comments:

RDR said...
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eninnej said...

Great minds, and all: Paul Currion on humanitarian.info also has reservations about the low-cost laptop's ability to save the world - http://tinyurl.com/zen4h

Got into a big inebriated debate with friends recently about whether internet access would be meaningful in the lives of the poor. Ultimately, I think we concluded that we can't possibly know what it would mean to someone in radically different circumstances than ours, and it's possible that it could be very meaningful, but that we also were concerned that this could be just an extension of the idea that 'helping the poor' means 'making them look like us'.

RDR said...

The $100 computer seems like a misdirected idea. Can you really see this level of technology being used in a hut made of dung and twigs? We may be able to build the computer but what is its purpose? How will the resource poor family benefit? Sometimes technology is not the answer to the problem, particularly when the basic problem is a lack of food, medicine, and education. Wouldn’t it be better to spend the money to hire teachers to teach reading and arithmetic? Or train medical technicians to deliver basic medication?

Why provide an inadequate piece of technology that is almost certain to end up on the junk heap because it doesn’t relate to their needs? Shouldn’t we try to seek out what the local people need. Let’s not assume that we know better than they do?