OLPC – I take it all back

by Andy Polaine on February 24, 2008

Some will argue that I’m weak-willed, but I have made a 180-degree change of opinion on the merits of the One Laptop Per Child project thanks to Tom Coates’s article.

I’ve been pretty cynical about the OLPC previously because I found the rhetoric not really matching what I had seen (limited as that was). The main issues being whether children need laptops versus food (of course, both would be possible), the environmental arguments and also the accusations of utopianism. Tom’s piece neatly kicks those issues into touch from the outset:

For me, it comes down to the way we want to operate in the world. It’s extremely easy to adopt a pose of scepticism and cynicism about any attempt to change things or push them forwards. I’ve said before about a particularly aggravating tech commentator that naysaying is a sure-fire way to look sensible and intelligent without any of the effort of actually having to think. I stand by that, and I think the OLPC project has had its fair share of this kind of thinking.

Fair cop. I think I’m probably guilty of this.

Personally though, I believe that it’s possible to work for the good of all and improve the world. I think it’s a decent and honourable thing to apply whatever means you have at your disposal to raising the aspirations and possibilities of one of the planet’s most squandered resources–its residents. And I do buy the geek rhetoric that access to information, communication and education cannot but help people. As such, I’m prepared to give this project and others like it, the benefit of the doubt.

I still have some issues about the educational theory behind it, but they’re not huge and I think Tom is absolutely right here. Perfectionism is another form of utopianism after all.

It’s always good to read something that turns your opinions upside down. I think it’s important to admit it too.

[tags]OLPC, Tom Coates[/tags]

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