The $100 Laptop

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Media Lab is working on a $100 laptop designed for children in the developing
world and low-income children in the U.S.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Lab is working on a $100 laptop designed for children in the developing world and low-income children in the U.S.

Kampuchea (Cambodia) has already begun a nation-wide effort to connect children via laptops connected by wireless service. It’s a huge challenge to do this in a country whose infrastructure is still not fully rehabilitated from the Pol Pot era over twenty years ago. The regime not only killed most of the intellectuals and skilled professionals, it virtually destroyed the nations electrical system, irrigation canals and even bridges.

New technologies are allowing developing nations to leap-frog the technology gap. Rwanda has set its sights on wiring the entire nation. That’s also a huge challenge for the country that only three years ago was in the throes of recovering from genocide, much like Kampuchea. Rwanda’s government plans to be in position to be a technology leader in Africa.

The amazing thing is, it’s not that impossible. It’s possible to power computers using both small generators and solar collectors. It’s also possible to connect computers to shortwave radios which can relay email through translators to a global network.

Even at a cost of $100, laptops will still be expensive for individual families and the laptop will be only one component of the needed wireless networking system.

Never the less, the move is clearly going to make a difference by providing connection to those who now are blocked by economics and lack of infrastructure.
Consider the fact that many in the developing world don’t have access to education, illiteracy is common and isolation is a fact of life. This new technology, for good and ill, changes the isolation, the access to information and ultimately, will probably affect literacy rates as well.

I remember years ago arriving in a small village in Niger and noting a gathering crowd in the village center. Mounted on a pole was a television set. They were coming to the town’s tv set to watch the evening news.

It was during this trip, now probably 25 years ago, that I also saw an interesting change in traditional patterns on the brightly colored materials used for women’s clothing. I noticed one woman was wearing a traditional dress but imprinted on it were small television sets. Before this material had flowers and geometric designs. But once technology takes hold, it permeates the culture in ways that are harmless, but interesting, and in ways that are basic, and life-changing.

The $100 laptop will bring basic changes in village life.

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