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.

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