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11/21/2005 Archived Entry: "More on the $100 laptop"

I decided to visit the MIT Media Lab page, hoping to get a good look at the $100 laptop. The first thing I saw, in big bold letters: "Please note that the $100 laptops—not yet in production—will not be available for sale. The laptops will only be distributed to schools directly through large government initiatives." I think that gives away their whole agenda right there. "Large government initiatives." I.e., give us great gobs of government money, and minimal accountability.

I finally found some photos here, here, and here, with another revealing clue about the UN mentality. "Note: The high resolution images are only available to WSIS accredited media." Ah, the gatekeepers on the information highway. Be regimented, or stay out in the cold.

Of course, you can't tell from the photos that the prototype on display is "a balsa model with a keyboard and an LCD with a thick cable attached to a box under the counter". Perhaps we should call it the $100 Vaporware.

I've been reading more from Lee Felsenstein, and he sees right through all of this:

By marketing the idea to governments and large corporations, the OLPC [One Laptop Per Child] project adopts a top-down structure. So far as can be seen, no studies are being done among the target user populations to verify the concepts of the hardware, software and cultural constructs. Despite the fact that neither the children, their schools nor their parents will have anything to say in the creation of the design, large orders of multi-million units are planned. ... This represents a particularly striking form of a command economy where a market economy is an absolute necessity.

You can see why the UN loves the idea...and why I predict it's doomed to failure. Does anyone remember the French Minitel system?

Felsenstein also has excellent technical criticisms of the project. As just one example:

Questions about connectivity of the OLPC laptop are answered by referring to the wireless mesh networking capability to be built into the device. Each one will link to others nearby, which in turn will link to others until finally one links to something connected to the Internet, whereupon all of the other laptops pass their data through the final link. ...[M]esh networking depends upon most of the links being operational whenever connectivity is needed. Are we to assume that all of the OLPC laptops will be left running, especially when the effort of battery charging is considerable? [Emphasis added.]

Not to mention his perceptive social observation:

At a technical conference just before leaving for Tunis, I was on the panel of a session talking about the laptop. There I heard for the first time that the intended use of the laptop was to replace school textbooks. Since textbooks were said to cost up to $20, just 5 uses would break even! I made the point that having a continuously alterable textbook was not something from which I want to have schoolchildren studying.

Especially, I'll add, when the distribution (and thus content) of those textbooks is under the control of the UN. I'm sure functionaries at several levels of government are salivating at the Orwellian prospects.


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