When you can see the giraffe’s eyes, it’s already too late

They’ve been talking up this OLPC (One Laptop Per Child) for over a year now. What was originally a sub $1oo computer designed specifically for the 3rd world, is now a $200 geek project box. As a toy these things are incredibly cool. Low power consumption, Linux OS, solid state drive, and mesh networking are all neat ideas but I can’t help wonder if this initiative is misplaced.

I get where the are coming from. If each child in a developing nation had a laptop, they could reach out to the world and find out just how terrible their lives really are by comparison. Maybe they could blog about unimaginable poverty and starvation. Or AIDS! They could blog about a 50% AIDS infection rate. I’m not trying to poopoo on the OLPC parade but I think its all a little idealistic. The fact that nerds are buying these to play with shows how great the separation is between “us” and “them.” We have so much money that we buy EXTRA computers that we don’t need just to play with. I bet most of the OLPCs bought by American’s this month will either end up as iTunes servers or under the NES and GENESIS in the closet. I bet the ones that make it to impoverished nations will be captured by drug lords and/or sold for food.

The hierarchy of human needs doesn’t allow for actualization during a struggle for survival. Only when survival is a relative given can we worry about bettering ourselves. I really do support what they are doing but it sounds a lot like “give all the sick children new designer sweaters! Like Bill Cosby wore!” It’s just not what they need. Potable water might be a better place to start.

On a side note, the sickliness of my clan over the holiday weekend left me with two options. No comic, or cannibalize a previous one. So there you go. Don’t look at me like that. Your eyes are like shame-daggers.

DJ Jonathan Feinstein, hit me with the remix!

Here’s the remix blank for today’s comic. Have fun with it, get creative and email the result to comics at hijinksensue.com. You can change anything you want, not just the text. Go crazy. Surprise me. Have them in before Thursday.


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  1. I hope you’re wrong about the OLPCs, and that they end up changing the world for good and whatnot, but I think you’re probably right. Inevitably, it could just be a cheaper way to get more tech support for big technology businesses. Think India and the Philippines, but bigger and cheaper.

  2. click click like shiny box 🙁

    (I’m actually curious as to where exactly these are getting distributed, if they’re places in the country that actually have teachers with the time and ability to teach the kids how to use the thing, or if they’re just sort of getting dumped off wherever. Laptop not very useful without reading skills. Although I doubt they’d do that, exactly. It’s probably one of those high profile impoverished villages who are already getting tons of help from American Idol and that guy with the sad girl without shoes and that one fat lady no one sees anymore.)

  3. I don’t know if the OLPC project is really a good idea, but it’s not as obviously as bad an idea as people joke. Yes, you need to feed people before you can go any further. But how can we break the cycle of poverty so they aren’t relying on handouts of food? Education is a key part of the solution.. $200 is a lot of money, but textbooks are also expensive. An OLPCs can potentially replace all of the textbooks a child will need. The textbooks can be updated and corrected without needing to print and ship a new set. Entire libraries of information can be made available to the children for a fraction of the cost of assembling a physical library.

    As I said, I don’t know if it’s a good idea. But I think it has potential. It’s a shame they missed the $100 per laptop goal.

  4. @Dean
    I hope im wrong too. Honestly I was just looking for an angle to exploit for the comic. Im sure theyve thought it out better than I make it out.

    I didnt touch on that because it would have made the comic not funny. Im sure they are only going to nations with power and SOME education. My example was extreme but I was just going for the gag. Im thinking more india than african planes.

    I agree. You have to start somewhere and the textbook point is very valid. I think it will be key to see how long the OLPC’s last before needing to be fixed. At $100 it sounded like a great idea. At $200 less great. At $400 and a geek has to buy one to play with so they can send one to a foreign land, it sounded kind of silly.

  5. Many of the companies that have sponsored this have education systems and desperately need to improve on them; countries like Peru. There are some countries that really should focus more on food that have bought into the program, but they’re backing out now since the price jumped from $100 to $188 and Intel has offered a cheaper windows based alternative with support contracts.

    The big fear is Intel’s Classmate competitor could kill OLPC. It’s kinda sad when a corporation starts competing with a non-profit. The WinTel empire doesn’t really like the idea of Linux/AMD laptops in developing countries. It makes me wonder if OLPC had used Intel chips instead, if Microsoft would have teamed up with AMD to do the same thing.

    These developing nations are worried about support for these laptops when they break. Intel claims to offer support, but we know how that goes. OLPC has offered training, but they need to offer more and get more volunteer instructors that will teach people not only how to use these computers, but maintain them by themselves. If these nations don’t learn to support their own equipment, they’ll be caught under the corporate dominance that has helped Microsoft kept its empire.

    Furthermore kids are pretty smart. So long as the older ones had good communication paths to the Internet, I’m sure a couple of them would learn how to use and fix these devices for both themselves and others. Food is important and education is important and so is industry. You need all these factors put together to grow these countries. I hope this goes in the right direction.

  6. “If these nations don’t learn to support their own equipment, they’ll be caught under the corporate dominance that has helped Microsoft kept[sic] its empire.”

    Come on. You can’t honestly believe this. Microsoft/Intel would like nothing better than to have these children develop the skills necessary to fix laptops. That way they could outsource tech support to Africa and wind up paying even less than they do today by importing it from countries like India.

    As for “WinTel” adoption stemming from greater exposure to that platform during the learning phase, that’s just how things work. If AMD/Linux want to compete for that sort of early market share they need to provide a competitive product right now, not just one that promises to be better in the future. Perhaps they can bundle OLPCs with food rations?

  7. @Sumit
    I think you are right about the kids figuring out how to fix the machines, except I doubt they would have replacement parts available. A cracked LCD can be replaced with a shined up car tire. Ive seen some pretty amazing homegrown ingenuity from developing nations from pics posted online. But theres a pretty big difference in turning an old washing machine motor into a welding torch and having access to IC’s and solder and electronic testing equipment. Who knows?

    If MS decides to donate a $10 version of windows to the intel version (did they? I havent read up on this one) I would expect it to gain massive exposure, but at the same time poorer nations have been migrating to open source software more and more in the last 5 years.

    I think its pretty cool that my silly comics create intellectual discourse. That said, you ALWAYS need more LOLCats. Here, have this one:



  8. Wind up radios. If you have read about just one example of the impact they can have on a local community such as in terms of regular news updates and how that allows farmers to do something as simple as judge supply and demand get better prices for their crops, then you wouldn't underestimate the impact of more information and better education then you would be much more optimistic about the potential of OLPC and have a little more respect for the ingenuity of those in developing nations when given half a fair chance.

  9. @Joel-
    It’s far better when one’s intellectual discourse creates silly comics than the other way around. I don’t come to this site to think about the sad state of the third world. I come to this site for gay wizards and dinosaurs.

  10. what the hell.

    the internet is the world's largest resource for education
    education helps prevent things like, say, the spread of AIDs

    • The internet also requires significant infrastructure, not likely to be found in places that have open sewers and run electricity from shanty to shanty via spliced extension cords. And that's in a township on the edge of a resort town in South Africa (major stop on the pro surfing tour) I did some volunteer work in 8 years ago. Assuming you have infrastructure in place, the internet also requires service providers that charge money. The kind of money that people trying to escape mind-numbing poverty do not have.

      If, somehow, you solve the problems of infrastructure and affordable service, the internet also requires content in a language that the user can understand. Quick, find me the Xhosa language option in Firefox, IE or Opera. Which leads us to another thing the internet requires…wait for it…wait for it…LITERACY. Which, come to think of it is pretty helpful in using a laptop to begin with. And is in short supply in many of the neediest places in the world.

      That's the hell.

      • ….. firstly, mesh networking at least partially alleviates the need for ISPs and communication infrastructure.
        ….. secondly, Africa isn't nearly as much of a shit hole as you think….. Somalia, prior to Ethiopia invading with the backing of the United States and African Union in 2005, the 2005 Tsunami and half the worlds navies trying to sink the Somali Volunteer Coast Guard, was actually expanding their infrastructure by leaps and bounds…. also vast improvements in health-care for women and children.
        …… thirdly, not all the laptops go to Africa, they also go to Latin America and presumably South East Asia, the Middle East and the Indian Subcontinent……. hell, maybe even Eastern Europe.

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