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One Laptop per Child (wikipedia.org)
22 points by tosh 3 months ago | hide | past | favorite | 12 comments

I participated in the "Give One, Get One" campaign where I bought one and donated one. I used it to read my email for a while - it was super slow but I enjoyed the novelty. It used Sugar OS which was their own Linux flavor (I think).

I was a bit naive about the whole project - I heard Negroponte speak at an event where he was arguing defensively that all a country needs is technology (even ahead of civil society) and I was so disillusioned. I was no expert in this area, but his arguments were very weak. Pretty disappointing and I feel bad for the really kind and generous people who poured so much of their time into this project because it had garnered so much goodwill.

Yeah Negroponte is a grifter. He has been involved in other failed stuff like this too. He is basically a ted talk personified

Very accurate way of describing him.

I also did G1G1 and used my X0-1 some (though it was pretty slow even by ~2007 standards, Sugar was an interesting idea for a WM / UI, but running all that through Python...). Negroponte may have come off as unrealistic, but they did have some successes with the OLPC in South America, and other pilot projects[1]. It seems like someone could make a rugged chassis like that for an RPi 4 compute module these days.

1: https://www.technologyreview.com/2012/10/29/84908/given-tabl...

If you are going down the "all a country needs is X" rabbit hole you'd start with the most important of all things a country has to provide: Stability. Everything else follows from that, even technology.

It seems that OLPC accelerated the development and adoption of cheap netbooks, which ultimately led to cheap full-sized laptops and Chromebooks. The $100 price point is something like $137 today so that isn't too far off.

Raspberry Pi also had an educational vision (inspired by the BBC Micro) and has led to a bunch of cheap and useful linux boards (and it also likely influenced the creation of the BBC Micro bit.)

Maybe not exactly the primary effects that the project developers had in mind, but pretty beneficial anyway,.

You could do a 10 hours course on what OLPC did wrong.

It was a slap in the face to the poor, a slap in the face to hackers.

It did repetitive mistakes made in the education sector, repetitive mistakes in IT you'll see on HN, repetitive mistakes in the NGO sector.

It's hard to think of a thing they did right. Perhaps on the hardware side.

I think the best lesson is at the time no one called the project out. To blame Negroponte is just shifting the NGO/Education/IT communities responsibilities. The same mistakes with OLPC are still being made today.

I think the best lesson is at the time no one called the project out.

There were plenty of people who called the project out.

Nobody cared, the "story" was too compelling.

Here's my favorite quip (I don't remember where I found it) about OLPC: "OLPC is a rich man's idea of what poor men need. It's like donating an expresso machine to a homeless shelter."

That quip was from 2007, so I will give you that as proof of it being called out early.

The TED talk that kinda kicked it off for the public was early 2006, which pre-dates HN - https://www.ted.com/talks/nicholas_negroponte_one_laptop_per...

Early comments are somewhat sceptical on HN.

My favourite was something like, what the people in developing countries actually need are radios and cell phones. That was referring to brick phones. Which you might say was an extra lucky comment since smart phones are now so vital in developing countries, but I think the commenter recognised at a base level what mattered. It's not they also knew phones would extra matter in the future, but by recognising a fundamental it progressed with global society.

[edit] I will say good coffee at a homeless shelter matters, but agree espresso machines are way to complex and easy to break.

It's just the usual gadget crap. If all it took was a $100 laptop to stop poverty or solve education then how come they didn't buy laptops themselves? Each laptop would pay for the next 2 laptops.

The problems begin much sooner than what gadgets they have. For example. That hand crank idea was motivated by the lack of a working power grid. If they don't have power why the hell are you giving them laptops? What you should be doing is on a political level. Give them a phone that shows off all the fancy infrastructure that first world countries have in a video and make them want it. If the battery runs out after a week it doesn't matter. The message has been delivered.

If you're interested in a detailed case study of OLPC's rollout, I recommend "The Charisma Machine".


I still have my G1G1 XO-1. I don't know what to do with it in the long run, but to me it's still a fascinating tech footnote to play with.

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