Monday, November 12, 2007

OLPC -- The Grand Experiment Begins

I've been following the OLPC program (One Laptop Per Child) for many months. The concept is frought with problems:
  • When a child's family per capita income is $500, what will they do with a $200 laptop? Sell it?
  • How well will wireless work when there the nearest router is 20 miles away?
  • What happens when you need tech support? What would you pay for tech support? $10/hour (aka 1 week's pay)?
I am optmistic and here are my hopes:
  • Kids will become computer literate. I remember a speech from Rasmus Lerdorf: he had to get an extra 8kb of space out of his Sinclair Z80 and reprogrammed it. If you give a million kids a laptop could we end up with a few hundred revolutionaries?
  • If a million non-occidentals get laptops will that steer operating systems and applications to be more globalized and less Anglo-centric?
  • Child labour isn't right, but if it continues, toiling away on a laptop is better than manual labour.
We took our first step in this experiment:
I got the OLPC email prompting me to "Give One, Get One"-- spend $400 and you will get a laptop and one laptop will be donated to someone in the developing world. The prompt sent me to the website (www.laptopgiving.org). I tried to buy the laptop via their connection to Paypal. Strike One: Paypal rejected all of my credit cards. Way to go Paypal. So, I went back to their front page and found the toll-free number: 1-877-70-LAPTOP (1-877-705-2786). I got direct access to a customer service representive. They were efficient and friendly. I ordered my laptop and we will wait and see what happens on the next chapter.

What should be coming? A laptop capable of these features.

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