The writers strike continues, and so do I. This is my third strike in a row, a turkey in the parlance of our times, which I now offer to you in the belated spirit of Thanksgiving.
The real turkey however, is the target of my now hardly-notorious STIKES.. the one laptop per child project.
For those less charitably-minded, let me explain the project a little. A few years ago Nicholas Negroponte, already hardly-notorious for his crazy Wired columns and being director of the the MIT Media Lab, decided that what would most benefit the poorest children of the world is not basic necessities and safe living conditions (like Bill Gates and Warren Buffet believe), but consumer electronics!
A Great Idea!
I believe this all started back in 2005, and I guess the main idea was to make a sub-$100 “laptop” that used very little power (so little as to be able to be hand-cranked back to life), but would at the same time catapult poverty-ravaged children into the 21st century! The laptop would have to be durable, easy-to-use, keep kids interested, and include learning software that could replace expensive books.
The lucky millions of children who got to use these laptops would get all this great “computer experience” and so be more ready to compete in the REAL WORLD when they happened to not die of starvation first.
A Great Idea?
Unfortunately, there are only two practical advantages to giving third-world children laptops:
There could possibly be savings compared to current textbooks and learning materials. The children could gain familiarity with the most important tool in the modern world: the computer.
Well, it’s almost three years later, and what’s finally come out of the project is a $200 laptop, that runs some custom learning software on a custom operating system with custom hardware.
And frankly, the third-world is no longer interested! Despite being promised orders of several million from such reputable countries as Libya and Nigeria, so far Negroponte has only delivered 2,000 laptops so far, and has total orders for less than 200,000… many of those to rich westerners!
On top of that, Microsoft and Intel have teamed up to offer the ClassMate, a real-deal laptop running actual Windows for just a bit more than the crazy, custom, non-standard OLPC is turning out to actually cost. Negroponte is crying foul and saying, “They don’t care about the children … they’re just selling these things at a loss to protect their market share!”
Duh, Nicholas. If they cared about the children they wouldn’t be making cheap laptops for them at all.. they’d be starting foundations to train teachers and start schools and buy books and provide water and medicine and all that other boring stuff. But that’s not what Intel and Microsoft are for. That’s what the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is for.
Intel and Microsoft are for making computer hardware and software (and dominating while they do it).
How in the world did you think you could start a company with 20 people and beat the entire computer industry that’s been doing this for decades and decades? And how in the world did you think you could beat them on price?
What To Do
Don’t worry Nicholas, it’s not your fault. You’re a bold thinker, and bold thinkers don’t get that way by worrying about details.
I, however, am an italics thinker! And italics thinkers get that way by being practical and worrying about details. Fortunately for you, I am now going to give you some italics advice for free.. as long as you promise to follow it.
One Nintendo DS Per Child!
Give up on selling the hardware! You’ve said so yourself, “I’m not good at selling laptops, I’m good at selling ideas!”
You’ve already done the hard part and convinced at least some people that what the poorest children in the world need are home electronics.. now it’s time to let somebody with some experience fulfill the manufacturing.
The Nintendo DS is literally perfect for your needs:
It’s cheap. ($129… and I’m sure if you order 150 million Nintendo will cut you a deal.)
It’s power-efficient. (Easily lasts 14 hours on a single charge, even with the screen bright enough to be seen in direct sunlight.. there’s even a hand-crank charger!)
It’s a computer. (All advantages to be gained by giving a young child a laptop are also gained by giving a child a DS. Just by using a DS they’ll become confident and “fluent” in the use of technology, and future “real” computer use will come much much easier. Worked for me!)
It’s got wi-fi. (In fact, it even does ad-hoc networking, and allows downloading content from one host DS to all the others.. just the teacher could have the lesson plan on their DS and wirelessly beam it to all the students at the start of each class!)
It’s rugged. (Nintendo’s been making toys for actual children for over 100 years and Game Boys have survived actual wars.)
It’s powerful enough. (If it can handle Mario Kart tournaments, it can handle Multipli Kation tables.)
It’s small and has a touch screen. (Like the iPhone. Just like laptops have replaced the desktop, in the future ever smaller portable electronics will replace the laptop. Why teach on antiquated technology?)
It’s forward-compatible. (Nintendo’s portable systems have very long life cycles. Any software you write for the DS will very likely still be runable on the hardware they’re selling in a decade.)
Children love it. (You want a teaching tool that’s “fun to use?” You want a teaching tool that’s “collaborative” You’ve hit “the jackpot.”)
It’s a world-wide standard. (Over 53 MILLION have been sold already. The platform has thousands of developers. The future leaders of the developed world are growing up playing Nintendo DS.. why give the future leaders of the developing world anything less?)
It worked for Japan. (Since the original Game Boy was released in 1989, Japanese GDP has grown over half a trillion dollars, which is clearly 100% attributable to the device.)
So please, Mr. Negroponte, hear my plea! Give up on the laptop, and just make a Nintendo DS cartridge with your educational software on it!
If only you’d done this from the start, you would have had your hardware already and maybe a couple million African kids would be on their way to a digital future years ago.
It’s not too late though.. switch your “buy one get one” promotion to be DSes now, and you could have that couple million yet! You could even partner with Nintendo and make a “special edition” DS you can only get through your program.
I suggest it have this picture on it, in honor of the italic thinker who made it all possible: