Not enough commentators and news organizations have picked up on what I consider a big story: the near possibility of a $100 laptop that would allow billions of poor schoolchildren around the world to connect to the Internet. Journalist Kevin Maney, of USA Today, pushed this story a few weeks ago, driven by the Davos Forum and Nicholas Negroponte a few weeks ago. Large companies have rightly signed on to push the technology forward; they include Google, AMD and possibly Samsung and Motorola.
Slashdot, BoingBoing, and many others have noted the story weakly. To me, it’s a fascinating construct and one that could be more than confabulatory if all of the positives really came out. The standard reasoning among many promoters is that the $100 laptop would allow potentially violent young insurgents to see how “cool” the West is and forgo their anger and hatred of all things Western (this myopia seems contingent upon the seductiveness of video games for some reason). Others see the pure economic benefits of, say, a Nigerian woman being able to sell her handmade items on eBay. Still others focus on the educational aspect of the $100 laptop, allowing students in developing countries to learn more deeply than they could have before.
It also seems that there are many micro-economic effects that the $100 laptop could have on our global culture and economy as well:
- Because the proposed systems would be open source based (to save costs and ongoing fees), programmers in any country could join the front in creating reliable, strong, and usable software.
- Small high-tech firms could reproduce the product within their countries, providing jobs and social structures in small communities.
- Innovation would be pushed open across the board. Rather than one set of hard-drive technologies being focused upon consistently, for instance, other kinds of memory devices and systems could be explored.
- The need for new phone systems (mobile or landline) could essentially be eliminated in small, hard-to-reach areas as VOIP could be used among the poorest to communicate.
- Medical facillities and other information-critical organizations would be greatly assisted with the advance of ready-to-use technical assistance provided online.
- Whole economies could tie into the Web, providing new communities and financial bases for products and goods where there were none before.
The logic of this is so clear, so pure, that it’s hard to believe an NGO or major multinational hasn’t already been started to push this project deeply. Western and Asian businesses would of course reap huge benefits with new subscribers and new audiences — as would local news organizations and academic institutions. For a foundation or major corporation, $100 million dollars towards this project would go a long, long way.