Grassroots technology

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Free Culture at Columbia has come out with some pretty cool stuff in its brief history: the Core on Flash drives, CULator, this gem of a protest video. Now, under the guidance of founder Brendan Ballou, they’ve transcended the Columbia plane and gone global. Allied with One Laptop Per Child (OLPC), Ballou and co. are set on helping to distribute free mini-computers to children in the developing world. And, you know, possibly influencing the course of human communications and history.

OLPC, which was founded at MIT in 2005, has created small, cheap ($130 each), super-durable laptops (called “XOs”…see photo) that feature internet access, a camera, music and art software, word processing, a phone, and a host of other useful tools designed for the use of kids aged 6 to 12. The computers connect on a local network and have the capacity to link up globally, bringing kids world-over face-to-face through their screens. Columbia’s Free Culture chapter, with the help of several grad students and J-Schoolers, contributed one of the more exciting software applications ot the project– a built-in template for news articles that will allow kids to publish their reports to a blogging system on the network or even print their own homemade newspapers.

Ballou said he envisions a world where young people are describing their own lives in place of, say, BBC reporters. To OLPC, he added, the micro-tech of the laptops is akin to developments in microfinance— it gives increased agency to the disenfranchised. Ultimately, OLPC hopes to spread the computers across the globe; currently, the education ministers of Ecuador, Uruguay, Argentina, Brazil, Libya, Nigeria, and Rwanda are signed on to finance the project in their countries, with more (possibly even the U.S.) expected to join.


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  1. asd  

    While this project has wonderful intentions, do you really think it is effective to give children computers before they have sufficient food, clean drinking water, and electricity?

  2. asd  

    which is the case in many of the communities this project targets.

    there are other, more simple ways to help alleviate poverty.

    I think nowadays, people get caught up in thinking of "new, hip plans" while the real answers are classic and age-old ---

    fixing infrastructure is first.

  3. jkl  

    Teach a person to fish, and... et cetera. Although the XO may seem new and hip, it's actually trying to implement a "classic and age-old" answer: education.

  4. seriously  

    theyre not actually targeting the poorest of the poor with this i don't think. like the kids you see on christian childrens fund commercials who dont have shoes...those arent the ones this is meant for. i may be wrong but i remember reading a bit about this a while back and it seemed like they were targetting poor villages where people had "stable" lives but they were incredibly undereducated and ages behind modern technology. they certainly aren't people of plenty but yes, im sure philanthropies have also noticed that sending computers instead of food to certain areas of the world is useless if they die of hunger before they can crank enough power to operate their wifi

  5. olpc  

    i've always seen olpc as a form of cultural imperialism but anyway...

    this is old, but HILARIOUS: (don't be scared of the link)

    guess one of the side effects of cultural imperialism is that they get the bad with the good.

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