I have been reading responses to the One Laptop per Child (OLPC) project (Give 1 Get 1) with a combination of amusement, horror, embarrassment and pride. The pride is for the sheer brilliance of the folks at the MIT Media Lab and their courage to look beyond the obvious for creative solutions. It is also for those folks who "get it" or at least try to get it.
The other three are for pretty much everyone else who has commented on the project. The XO is a computer designed to withstand extreme conditions, bright sunlight, water, lack of power, jostling, and, well… Kids.
I know many of us were raised on “Feed the Children” ads. When we think of "developing countries" we can hardly forget children with bloated bellies, no shoes and flies hovering around their faces. Of course, there are children living in those conditions. But there are also children with food, clothes, shoes (where needed!) and even educational access. They may not have a fully balanced diet and their clothes may be second-hand, but their basic needs are being met. If they are going to be able to achieve their own personal dreams, or even to have enough information to create a dream, it’s going to take a bit more than a pair of shoes.
That’s where the PLPC project comes in. If you’re skeptical about the relevance of sending laptops around the world, consider this:
- There are tens of thousands of books available to read online
- Writing on a computer conserves vital natural resources and money
- The Internet provides access to cultures, places, languages, ideas and information we may not otherwise be exposed to.
- Technology can build bridges between children and their parents (I have seen this first hand).
- Without the flood of pre-scripted programs, computers are a perfect tool for exploration, creativity and experimentation. For children with limited resources, this is invaluable.
Not only that, but the XO laptops are pretty nifty little machines with built-in video cameras, dual-mode monitors (color LED and hi-contrast Black & white), water proof keyboards, Open Source software and minimal connections for breakage. These little guys are built to last. Oh… they run on less power than most laptops so you can actually power them using a hand crank or a pull cord. Tell me that’s not a bit of genius!
Run out and buy your favorite kids (or favorite gadget-aholic) one of these guys for the holidays. At $400, it’s a steal for you and, more importantly, it could change the life of one child somewhere else. Consider it to be the High-Tech way to "Save the Children."