Random thoughts on most things from A. M. Craig.

Friday, September 14, 2007


(Above) This is a working prototype. So yes, I can now say I have played with the OLPC laptop. And I still want one. There is talk of even selling them as a philanthropic endeavor. If you buy one in the States, you pay double the price, thus supplying yourself and an underprivileged third world child. Buy your gadgets and feel great about it!

(Above) There are five (5) of these models in the world. Nicholas Negroponte has one. The Pope has one. This was one of the other three.

I just got back from a lecture by one of the chief conceptual designers behind the OLPC initiative. There were about 30 students there, most of them Industrial Design majors. I only heard about it through my roommate Justin (the guy in the orange shirt above). It was fascinating! Here are some of the thoughts I had.

-You know how they got this thing to fly? They faked it. They didn't have prototypes to show potential investors and philanthropists, they had plastic models. When Nicholas Negroponte was showing this off to everybody, he was using a cheaply (carefully and skillfully, yes, but cheaply) made model. It was faux wood with pins and plastic, etc. That's what he showed to Kofi Annan, that's what he gave the Pope when he wanted one (yes, the Pope called and asked for one), that's what he leaked to the world as the earth shattering innovation. When Negroponte himself leaked some of the first images of the OLPC, what he was really showing was a cardboard mock up.

-That picture with Kofi Annan? If he looks a little flustered, it's because he just broke the handle off the cheap model at a press meeting, and is trying to stick it back on. They wrote the designers asking for a repair kit. The designers sent them super-glue.

-They weren't selling a product, they were selling a vision. They weren't asking for money so they can give you something, they were asking for money to give the world something.

-They didn't have groundbreaking technology, they had groundbreaking objectives. Those objectives drove the innovation.

-Quanta (who probably manufactured the computer you are reading this on) called and offered them some impressive stuff. Those models had convinced the electronics manufacturing giant to bring the price down on some of their coolest technology. Those computers that have a swivel monitor? Quanta said they could add that feature on OLPC for $3 a pop. A humorous hypothetical: They may very well be using child labor in Malaysia or something to make those parts so cheaply. Those children are bound by poverty and ignorance. The company exploiting that offers to make cheap parts for a philanthropic tech initiative. Those parts make the $100 benchmark feasible, and the project moves forward. Those simplified laptops make their way back to the country of origin. The same kids whose nimble hands made the parts get those nimble hands on a web enabled PC. That portal offers them education. That education frees them from the ignorance and poverty that made the cheap parts available in the first place. It's a cycle that makes itself obsolete, much like 19th century imperialism. The "white man's burden" was to Christianize and civilize the world's "savages", the only way to do that is to dominate and tame them, and once that is accomplished, the white man no longer has any benevolent excuse. They must either leave or admit their alterer motives to perpetuate military occupation for economic gain, and even then, an enlightened and determined people will kick them out.
Note: Child Labor by Quanta = Very Hypothetical Speculation

-The keyboard is tiny and clearly meant for small hands.

-Some of their initial art looked remarkably similar to the phone I was taking notes on during the lecture, and took the preceding pictures with.

-I love being at a University where I can participate in this kind of thing. And in the same breath, I hate school. I hope you understand.


Richard said...

About the University/School comment...enjoy it while you can. There is a cold, cruel boring world out there just waiting for you upon graduation.

pc said...

So then the answer becomes be a professor, because you can make money and stay at college forevermore...with summers off...and you can mold formative, young minds into believing as you do. Eat it.

Becky said...

Also, check out the Pop Tech video podcasts. It features the the creme-de-la-creme of the thinking world each year.

I might need to partially retract my earlier comment. There is plenty of fascinating stuff out there in the world. It is just practically feed to you at a University, whereas in the "real world" you have to go looking for it a little harder.

By the way, I hope you are at least minoring in business. The business penumbra encompasses all this stuff...

Richard (on Becky's computer)

Wayan @ OLPC News said...

On OLPC News, we investigated Quanta's labor conditions and found them to be industry standard. Not a day in the park, but also not sweatshop or child labor level either.