The $100 laptop

My Masters thesis, which I am in the middle of, is centered around information and communication technology (ICT) initiatives in the developing world. There are many recent examples of such initiatives, and lots of people more experienced than me are researching similar topics and ideas. The $100 laptop is one such example, probably the most famous one. Now, before I talk more about it, I need to discuss why what I am doing is important.

With great power comes great responsibility. And no, that is not my own quote obviously. The people who are heading these initiatives have a great responsibility towards the people that they are trying to help. Because trying to help and screwing up is extremely bad in any case, especially when you are talking about people who have much less than others as in this case.

While reading older articles about the $100 laptop, I predominantly came across people talking about the technological difficulties of such an attempt. I am sure that a lot of people have expressed similar doubts to mine, and it my hope to get access to people like that through comments and stuff through this blog.

Why are people obsessed with technology, surpassing technological difficulties – especially in a situation like this? Shouldn’t you try to figure out if what you are going to dump on them a good thing? It might be extremely successful in high schools in Boston, but we are not talking about Boston or Chicago are we? Did you go talk to these people and figure out what they really wanted. Why are such basic things overlooked? I think it is easier for people to ignore that part of the problem as it is infinitely hard to do, and instead they choose to pore over hard problems that they are used to.

The $100 laptop has so much potential to do great things, but it could also ruin a lot of things, like the cultural and traditional balance in families and communities. It is a technological marvel, but it is not necessarily “good design”. Dumping western artifacts that have been designed for people comfortable with them, and have grown up in an environment centered around similar stuff into villages in Africa or India is not a good strategy nor is it a brilliant or novel idea. It might be “cool” for a person who is not a deep thinker, who rationalizes that digital artifacts have advanced our lives so much and so will do the same for them. But there are many layers to this, and there needs to be more careful consideration before doing stuff like this.

Also, what is going to happen to these laptops when they break? Who is going to repair them, how are they going to be disposed? When disposal of electronics is hard/expensive in the developed world, it is poor long-term strategy not to think of a way to dispose of these things. I will bring up this topic with many tangents in my blog in the near future.

Again, this blog is my opinion and I would love to hear other people’s opinions and responses. Feel free to point out flaws in my arguments as it is going to help my research, and to point to people doing this sort of work.

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