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Of course, communication infrastructure is one of the first targets of any invading military force to control or destroy. Therefore, one may say, a nationwide cellular network would not survive the depredations of any military force.


some criticism towards the criticism on olpc-project:

In addition to the cellphone argument in the comment by lee felsenstein I'd like to state that all new technologies where first adopted by the younger generation, leaving elder people behind their children to some extent. This has not led to disruption of civil order. Usage of the XO laptops is easy even compared to cellphones, so i'd expect parents will benefit from the new means of communication as well. It is about children between the ages of six and fourteen, they mostly live at home being economically and emotionally embedded within their family's and wont stop doing so just because of some new technologies.

There is much focus on the lack of moral instruction from the elder generation. First this instruction does not disappear with one new way of communication being added to the others that keep on existing. Second, the most immoral activities in history have not been triggered by children but mostly by elder authorities. I prefer laptops with open content and decentralized communication in the hands of children compared to ones with limited content and restricted communication being introduced to children by authorities. Imagine the latter in country's ruled by warlords or governments that perform censorship or support limited proprietary software.
Warlords hiring children as soldiers or sex slaves might try to benefit from the laptops in a way they already do from cellphones, but the decentralized structure of communication might on the other hand enable children to inform each other and the outside world about things that happen.

Of course good tutors, a blackboard and chalk are perfect, but compared to laptops they cost a lot of money and especially time that is not there. A suboptimal education is better than none and the two concepts are not mutually exclusive.

The digital divide does exist and is not about a lack of "xboxes" and "personal consumer electronics", it is about a lack of access to information and communication that enables authorities to spread rumors and lies and that prevents development. So this absolutely IS crucial to the "bushman" imagined by geoff. I will not further comment him referring to the laptops as "a bunch of computers made from yogurt pot plastic and connected to a staggeringly unreliable HAND-POWERED wireless network" - read about the technology and you will know this is simply FUD and polemics - hand powering is the future!

Some more general advisement: Every new technology arising is accompanied by criticism. The numerous examples in history show that it was never the new technologies that caused evil but the usage of them by some people having some wicked ideas. So it might just be those ideas that cause evil, no matter what technology is applied. Considering this, i am very much looking forward to this project as it is designed to apply new tech in a way that does everything possible to maintain the openness and freedom in usage, so that it is absolutely unlikely to end up as another one-way TV/xbox-substitute showing propaganda, inappropriate western ads and consumer lifestyle. Look at the achievements of open source and wiki in terms of cooperation and providing possibilities - this is the direction olpc is heading.

Just another biblical prophet exorcising daemons, maybe a bit more optimistic.


OLPC is utterly immoral.
Oxford University and Cambridge University have been teaching the top minds in the world for centuries _mainly_ through the use of blackboard and chalk and through small tutor-led groups using pen and paper and (although of course computers now play a part) this is largely still true the majority of the time today.
Therefore what possible pedagogical use are these laptops in the hands of any child? What matters is the QUALITY of teaching and education not some gizmo.
To be selling these devices to the developing world whether at $100 or at 1 cent is utterly immoral when they should be spending their money on teachers and on classrooms.
Even putting the actual purpose and value of them to one side, this WILL NEVER WORK. Does anyone really think that a bunch of computers made from yoghurt pot plastic and connected to a staggeringly unreliable HAND-POWERED wireless network will ever work apart from in some ivory tower geek research lab? If they do, they should be sacking all the IT staff in their business right now...
Finally, the 'digital-divide' is a complete nonsense. Not everyone measures their quality of life by the same values. The bushman does not wake up ruing the fact he cannot afford to buy the latest Xbox.
Whether the promotion of these pathetic gadgets is done for charity or not the end result is that people who have no need, use or desire to have personal consumer electronics are introduced to that market creating the demand for more and better.
Given we face a global crisis within our lifetimes precipitated by own own lust for technology, for faster and bigger cars, for larger warmer homes, and so on, to be promoting such wrong-headed values in societies where they have no place or foundation is scandalous.


Its an interesting issue that you've highlighted. I have read of a number of issues with cell phones being banned in schools.
From this article on phones in NY schools:
"... Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Schools Chancellor Joel Klein have staunchly refused to drop the ban. They insist cell phones are a distraction and are used to cheat, take inappropriate photos in bathrooms and organize gang rendezvous. They are also a top stolen item."

Here in Australia there have also been a number of issues recently with students' unsupervised use of youtube where videos of violence, sexual abuse or hate speech have been uploaded. Many have argued that the solution is not to block the technology, but to ensure that students are taught values that would lead to more responsible usage. I think you're correct in asserting that we have a responsibility to ensure students have a moral framework before exposing them to areas they are potentially ill equipped to negotiate.

Imran Ali

Coming from a large European telco working in mobility and broadband services, there's an unusual fixation on the views of youth and children in defining and distributing services.

I find it curious that our VPs and other decision makers feel that the only path to success is by addressing the needs of youth at the expense of many other age groups...particularly in societies which are actually ageing and youth represents a smaller and smaller community.

It appears as though OLPC suffers the same type of problem, though with potentially more serious consequences.

Do you think this is driven somewhat by the general infantilisation of culture in the West...where childhood almost extends into people's 20s and sometimes 30s!

Randy Godwin

Is anyone looking at alternative models to the top-down model that most techies know has potential for misuse or dust gathering? The model Heifer International uses has had success - while honoring the local culture and empowering people to be independent and become enablers and givers themselves. I’d be interested in learning more about how laptops will be integrated into communities.

Lee Felsenstein

The cellphone example does not apply here because they were not distributed to children only. I have no objection to children using technologies, but my caution is against giving children powerful communications technologies to the exclusion of their elders.

I, too have other reasons for skepticism (see my previous posts).


Cellphones are already very common in developing countries, and as far as I know they have not led to an outbreak of criminal activity.

I think there are other reasons for being sceptical of the OLPC's value.

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About Lee Felsenstein

  • Based in Silicon Valley, Lee currently does electronic product development, due diligence, expert witness assistance as well as speaking engagements and participation in conferences such as the O'Reilly Emerging Technology conferences. The most unusual places he has spoken were at the Waag in Amsterdam and a squat in Milan, Italy. He was named the 2007 "Editor's Choice" in the Awards for Creative Excellance made by EE Times magazine. He holds 12 patents to date.