On my way back from Tunis, laying over in Amsterdam, I have occasion to reflect on events, my writings and other peoples' reactions to both.
This blog is not about rubbishing the One Laptop Per Child project. There are some good and valuable aspects to it and I applaud the effort that is being put into it. I would not try to convince anyone not to work on it. Something like the laptop will be needed as infrastructure develops and it will be good to have the results of a lot of engineering effort put into reducing costs and setting new specifications appropriate to the new IT market in developing countries.
I cannot, however, suspend my critical faculties as I see how the project is presented and marketed. There is a real problem with the assertion (which I have had confirmed) that research is not being pursued - supposedly because MIT has done educational research for 30 years. I do not accept that everything is now known about the world and that the challenge is to act quickly and decisively. Such assertions have been heard before and usually lead to far different outcomes than intended, at which point those who drove the process throw up their hands and blame the technology or the technologists.
The outcome in this case to be avoided is the perception that "you can't give computers to those people - it won't work for them". I can see this as a very real possibility if we all keep our mouths shut and act as if the laptop is the culmination of computer tehnology as far as the developing world goes.
In my view, design matters a great deal. Measuring computers by tonnage or disk size is illusory - what matters is what happens when people use them. Design places constraints upon how people can use computers. We need to have a critical conversation about the issue of design of products which are intended to have great consequences. Not having seen much in the way of such conversation, I have tried to lay out the issues as I see them in the hopes of fostering one.
I do not expect immunity when it comes to my own design work in this field. No one should be immune from criticism who leads a design and development effort intended to affect people in the millions. The offering of evidence, argumentation, and the appropriate adjustments in the project goals and definitions are what we need more of, not something with which we can dispense in the rush to implement.