Thursday, June 29, 2006

What's the difference in a wind-up toy and a laptop?

Re: Educators First to Text Negroponte's $100.00 Laptop Prototype from eSchool News

I know a lot of folks are going to talk about the $100.oo laptop, and I know it is a terrific stride toward reduction of the digital divide. There is no doubt that is a fabulous first step. Unfortunately in my opinion, it is only going to work in a small part of the world economy. One Hundred Dollars in many parts of the world is an amount that would make one almost rich. It would not matter in those places whether the lovely wind-up (actually the hand cranked power generator has been removed from the current $140.00 iteration) computer was $100.oo or $10.00, it would still not be an affordable educational expense. And yes, I am still talking about the same places where the device was intended to be employed. Take a look at the names of some of the countries already in line to buy such devices: Brazil, Thailand, Egypt, Cambodia, Dominican Republic, Costa Rica, Tunisia, Argentina and Venezuela. How many developing African or Middle Eastern nations are on that list? Similar devices have been tried before and the economics of the world just didnt provide enough stimulus for production ( see Simputer
- $130-$240 USD depending on the size of screen - , in India or the Dragon Dream - about 100 pounds english - in China).

I think it is great that a bunch of engineer got together and built this device for such a low cost. Now I wonder if I could get them to work on the internal combustion engine. Truth is, I think the money that has been sunk into this project/contest would have been more wisely spent in developing cellular phone technology that would have made smart phones cheap enough to put into the hands of really poor people.

Or perhaps it's all a moot point. Perhaps, just perhaps, the very thing that we are sitting around talking about is already occuring and we are just not noticing.

A few weeks ago, I had the absolute delight of hearing from a blind man who teaches in a refugee camp in Southern Sahara. He joined my regular Sunday morning get together with the Webheads in a Skype powered internet broadcast from WorldBridges. Take a few moments to listen to his story. Afterwards ask yourself what effect the $100.00 computer will have on this man and his efforts or if he will even be able to get his hand on one. I think you will be surprised at his comments.

Toward the end of another interesting weekly EdTechbrainstorm hosted by Doug Symington, we were joined in the public skypecast by Albert. As it turns out, Albert was skyping in from a refugee camp in the African desert of Western Sahara. where he is a "blind hippie, teacher, Sufi political dissident".

For the next 2 and 1/2 hours, the handful of us left in the webcast were captivated by the life experiences and insights he shared. The first few minutes are a bit tech related, but by minute 8 Albert begins painting us an amazing picture of his life. I usually have a difficult time providing a clear answer to the questions "What is Worldbridges?" - to me, this this conversation is Worldbridges.

Conversation with Albert - Part 1
Download mp3 ( 56:28, 25.8MB)

Conversation with Albert - Part 2
Download mp3 ( 40:58, 18.7MB)

Part 2 of our conversation wtih Albert, a "blind hippie, teacher, Sufi political dissident" who was skyping in from a refugee camp in the African desert of Western Sahara.

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