There was enough at LCA to be excited about to give you heart palpitations. If I was forced to single out one thing, it would have to be the One Laptop Per Child Project (OLPC).
One of my primary interests has been the interactions between people and technology, and I have long felt that there has been scant attention payed to how this operates in developing countries. Sustainable development is a vital goal, and an important part of this ongoing process is the use of appropriate technology. This can range from bare hands and rudimentary tools to complex computational and engineering infrastructure. The key is to select what is most applicable in a given situation.
So-called ‘developed’ regions of the world might be able to accommodate expensive, disposable and inefficient technologies and methodologies. This has guided policy, R&D, production, distribution and use within this part of the world. The playing field is entirely different in developing regions, and so solutions need to be crafted with their needs in mind.
You can’t expect to successfully shoehorn a solution designed for Sydney onto Mogadishu, or even onto Maningrida. To date, however, most approaches try to do just that. This only works to an extent, if at all. In many cases it would be better to rethink things from the ground-up to come up with something more appropriate. This doesn’t mean that you’re throwing out the baby with the bathwater. Successful designs often base themselves upon existing policies, technologies and ideas, and then proceed to modify or redesign parts to fit their goals. The OLPC is a prime example of such an endeavour.
Whether it is successful or not is another matter. That remains up to the governments which purchase and distribute them, and the communities which accept them. The greatest challenge of the OLPC isn’t technical, it’s socio-political.