OLPC One Laptop Per Child

The $100.00 laptop is one of my favorite pieces of news that I've been following closely. The short of it is that I think it's a great idea. On slashdot there's a recent thread on it. I see the same comments over and over:
  • Laptops? These kids need food and water!
  • $100.00 could be better spent elsewhere.
  • It'll be sold for food and money
  • $100.00 - can't be done
  • 3rd world, what about Americans?
So here are my answers:
  • Laptops? These kids need food and water! These laptops are mostly for kids that are too poor to buy a computer but rich enough to have food and water. There are kids in the US that go to school hungry as well. For those kids laptops aren't the solution. However, there are lots (most) kids that are on the edge of technology, but not quite there. Or they might have parents who have the money but don't know computers and don't want to "waste" their money on a computer or laptop.
  • $100.00 could be better spent elsewhere. A laptop is something tangible that makes great photo ops for politicians and for philanthropists. Food, not so much. Imagine a politician taking a photo op in front of a bunch of kids who are smiling because they just got fed. It points to the fact that they had not been feed previously!
  • It'll be sold for food and money. Having laptops stolen or sold is a possibility. But if these are cherished items for the kids they (and their community) will more likely protect them and chastise those that steal them. Also, if there are enough of them around the resale value might not be worth it.
  • $100.00 - can't be done. The price is very low and some of the technology isn't quite there yet, but they want to really mass produce these items (millions). Also, if you look at cellphones they are in many ways more powerful than the $100.00 laptop is. My belief, is when it is launched it'll go for $125.00 and then will float down to $100.00 over a year.
  • 3rd world, what about Americans? Actually, anyone who wants to buy a million of them for a $100 each can purchase it. I wouldn't be surprised if a few rich billionaires in the US buys a million for the US.
Reading the comments on slashdot clearly shows that most of the posters didn't ready anything about the $100.00 laptop. It has no hard-drive, no CD rom or DVD drive, no built in batteries (uses D cell batteries).
It does have WiFi network capabilities, small color screen, keyboard, touchpad, handcrank, 128 megabytes of memory, 1 gigabyte non-volatile memory.
The most important use of this laptop is for reading and writing. Books cost money to print and distribute and this laptop will cost nothing to distribute books. Books are usually constrained by how many colors they can print and how many pages they can have, e-books don't have those problems. Paper, pens and pencils cost money too. I wouldn't be surprise if kids spend more than $10.00 a year on pens and notebooks, in 5 years you've paid for 1/2 the laptop.
And how much value is there in one book. One book only has the value of the contents of that book. A laptop has the value of all the books that can be downloaded to it.
Think of a school that needs to build a small library of books. Books that grow moldy on the shelves. Now they could have 10s of thousands of books on a hardrive, the kids can take a bunch of books home every week (and no late fees!).


Anonymous said…
An interesting post, but you should also take a look at this alternative opinion too.
Scott Kirkwood said…
Anonymous' post about openfree.org article which chronicles some successes and failure s in the past and some worries about the $100 laptop is very good! It isn't just firehosing the idea just cautioning on the need for a holistic approach to the OLPC.
I think the article points to what I hinted at in my post - this laptop needs to hit a sweet-spot, schools that have reliable electricity some internet connectivity and access to support, basically the big cities. Eventually, in maybe 5 years nearly all children will have a variation of the laptop, even the rural areas.

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