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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