Maybe you’ve seen the signs on the highway: Give a laptop. Change the world.
The One Laptop Per Child project says its mission is to “create educational opportunities for the world’s poorest children by providing each child with a rugged, low-cost, low-power, connected laptop with content and software designed for collaborative, joyful, self-empowered learning.”
OLPC founder and MIT Professor Nicholas Negroponte says, “When children have access to this type of tool they get engaged in their own education. They learn, share, create, and collaborate. They become connected to each other, to the world and to a brighter future.”
Really? Haven’t we been talking a lot lately about how technology is disconnecting us from our kids and disconnecting our kids from the world around them? Just the other night I was lecturing my 12-year-old niece about how if she never stops texting people she’s not with, she’s never really with the people she’s with. (Even saying that to myself makes my head spin.)
The laptop project is in the news because OLPC announced yesterday that they’ve partnered with Marvell, a computer chip and silicon manufacturer, “to develop a new family of tablet computers for the project.” The price of the tablets, to be used for education and health care in the US, “is supposed to hover around $100, but Mr. Negroponte said the ones distributed by the project could cost less, possibly $75.”
According to The New York Times,“the new tablets will offer a bevy of high-tech parts, including a full high-definition video encoder and 3-D graphics chip. In addition, the tablet will have a built-in video and still camera, a multitouch display and a soft keyboard similar to that of the Apple iPad.” Mr. Negroponte said, “the tablets will have a clean design, and be thin, measuring a height of 10.8 millimeters.” The iPad measures 12.7 millimeters.
So is this about the kids or the computers? It sounds like a high-tech pissing contest if you ask me. I’m not the only one who thinks the idea of changing the world through laptops is more than foolish. John C. Dvorak said in an article for PC Magazine, a publication devoted solely to computers and technology:
Every year, 15 million children die of hunger. Throughout the decade, more than 100 million children will die from illness and starvation. One in 12 people worldwide is malnourished, including 160 million children under the age of 5. Nearly one in four people, or 1.3 billion—a majority of humanity—live on less than $1 per day, while the world’s 358 billionaires have assets exceeding the combined annual incomes of countries with 45 percent of the world’s people. Let’s include Negroponte and the Google billionaires. So what to do? Let’s give these kids these little green computers. That will do it! That will solve the poverty problem and everything else, for that matter. Does anyone but me see this as an insulting “let them eat cake” sort of message to the world’s poor?
I do, sir. Unless the starving children who receive these tablets can eat the 3D graphics gleaming off their screens, these laptops are nothing but a dangling carrot; a high-tech slap in the face. Negroponte’s heart seems to be in the right place. I just hope his wallet is, too.