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Next entry: Yet another perverse incentive
Previous entry: Easy with Eve
Monday December 03 2007

But the bad news is that the demand for these things isn’t coming from excited poor children.  It’s coming from richer people and very rich people who think poor children merely ought to be excited.

From engadget:

All steam ahead for the OLPC Foundation, which recently received an order from Peru for 260,000 of the little XO laptops. Also news is that Mexican billionaire and Negroponte’s chum Carlos Slim has purchased 50,000 for his country. That’s against a background of $2 million sales a day on the Give One, Get One program. Clearly, the OLPC Foundation is the most successful program out there for getting laptops into the hands of schoolchildren.

I’m not entirely sure about this, but I smell disaster, in the form of lots of unused computers swilling around the third world, not working, because all the useful bits have been stripped out and sold on.  Also, I expect mysterious numbers of these things to turn up in the dodgier parts of rich countries.  These laptops may be getting sent in the general direction of schoolchildren, but will they actually reach their hands, and once in them, will they remain there?

The contrast between all this let’s-give-sweet-little-computers-to-the-sweet-little-poor-people and what has happened with mobile phones is, I think, revealing.  The poor people actually want mobiles, and people swarmed all over the world selling them mobile phones.  No charity was needed to get the poor people excited about those.

Meanwhile, teaching in poor countries seems most likely to proceed successfully with dopey old things like blackboards and chalk, paper, pencils etc.  (See also this, about which I also have doubts.) This charitable laptop frenzy reminds me of how I felt when I wrote this.