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Hold down the ESC key, Mr. Negroponte. Then it will all go away…

January 31, 2009

Here’s an interesting elegy to the One Laptop Per Child project, the much-lauded initiative of Nicholas Negroponte to bring computers to the world’s poor. Turns out it went bust:

Last week OLPC laid off half of its staff. Sales of its XO Laptop to developing nations are far, far below initial projections in the millions; in the third quarter of 2008 it shipped a mere 130,000 units, a trivial 2.3% of the world’s low-cost, small-screen “netbook” laptops. Meanwhile, the income from their 2008 “Give One Get One Free” drive dropped 93% from 2007.

Why? I’m so glad you asked.

1. It was a bad idea to begin with.
2. The XO laptop is a piece of crap.

It is too bad–and the author of that piece agrees–because it’s such a nice good-will notion. But anyone who’s spent any time in a part of the world where kids don’t have access to computers could have predicted this. (Also, anyone who grew up in the classrooms the Clinton Administration determined to outfit with computers could have figured this out, too; we never got to touch those damn things.)

The article outlines Point 2, Ways in Which the Laptops They Made Suck. You should check it out.

This isn’t one of those “journalists just love bad news” moments. Rwanda brings the advantages of growing up on computers into stark relief: in a country where those old enough for the work force have only learned computers in the last few years, things move slowly, and the sort of hyper-active cyber-multitasking we’re used to simply Does Not Compute. Kids need computer literacy, early on. But maybe bringing a poorly built product into their the homes isn’t the way to do it, after all.

One Comment leave one →
  1. January 31, 2009 8:03 am

    This idea was a very big and flop since it began…

    Mr Negroponte wo wrote books on digital culture needed to understand that in many countries, children need basic needs like food, clothing and shelter, and many of them have to struggle to make a living, going to school isent their priority.

    Does it make sense to devote worthy time and finance to project an idea which has got less practical meaning?? OLPC could have well transformed itself to a PDA, a low cost business assistant, but Mr Nicholas choose otherwise.


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