Well, when I started blogging I never thought a video of me talking at a panel was part of the deal, its quite strange watching yourself and getting self conscious about the whole thing. OMG mom! I am on the equivalent of TV! Lame lines aside; Erik has the video, I cant get myself to embed the video on my blog yet. I feel like Mike, that i could have done more. Some of the things I mentioned might seem a bit esoteric, so i will add some links and mention a few things i think i should have included at the panel.
OLPC: This computer has been the subject of discussions with Erik, Steve, JKE, Maitha and others for awhile now, several years actually. Erik’s post in 2005, my post in 2006 and even more recently regarding the keyboard design. It seems like we have lived through the project since it was a concept to its current reality. My thoughts on it have fluctuated, from the posts I wrote in the past, I was really gung ho about the thing. I still am on some level, as I do appreciate that I wouldn’t be where I am, were it not for access to computers (and power actually) during my formative years. This is what i wanted to say…
I was listening to the digital planet podcast (11/26) where they had a correspondent attend the launch of the OLPC in Abuja, Nigeria. You could hear the excitement and enthusiasm in the children’s voices as they spoke of what they would do with the OLPC. It was a great moment. Now to the questions that started popping into my head like Orville Redenbachers microwave popcorn. When Gareth Mitchell was talking to Bill Thompson, they mentioned how they attended the OLPC launch in Tunis and how a child was crying because they’d been given an OLPC to play with for a time, then it was taken away. That was not a good moment, rather sad really, that kid is probably traumatized right now wherever he or she may be. I mean isn’t that just a little cruel? I know i would wail like a banshee if i was in her shoes. The discussion segued into what it would mean for the children to have a laptop that they would call their own. This got me wondering, that perhaps one of the unintended consequences of the OLPC project is that it would enhance the idea of ‘mine’ rather than ‘ours’. In modern Africa do the age old African values of community and sharing still apply? Would the OLPC idea chip away at the ‘utu’, that is a societal benchmark? Is the Ndiyo project a better thought out model for computer literacy, what with the idea of USB thin clients that I am already a fan of?
I should add that I think the Ndiyo model of networked computing could be well suited for school situations. This is because of two reasons.
1. Cost – The class sizes in Kenya increased owing to the free primary schooling offered by the government. Having a networked model enables more students to get basic computer literacy, as they can share the computer lab resources. This is particularly apt i think because the OLPC project was geared towards schools in the developing world.
2. This i already mentioned above…the idea of ‘my laptop’. The OLPC can be shared between students…but if you have a class of 30 children and 28 OLPC’s someone will undoubtedly get disappointed.On the other hand, as Steve mentioned in the post on OLPC Keyboard..i will reiterate his comment here, because i think its very important.
Some thoughts: you ask “Maybe I am looking at this all wrong, Is Negroponte pimping the â??education projectâ?? in pursuit ofâ?¦what?”. Well, maybe the answer is indeed in plain sight. Maybe he just wants to provide technology access to the masses like he keeps telling us he wants to.
And here is another thought for you: if the OLPC team did indeed go to Nigeria to look for inspiration for the design of the product, it is heartening that they are looking to the populations that will actually use these products for design and usability clues instead of sitting in Boston or LA or wherever and saying “hey, thats what the kids/world/users/consumers need”.
I have in the last month or so found myself increasingly frustrated with this attitude to design and product creation when I have to “fix” my computer for my 4 year old who wants to use it but cannot understand why in the world Windows keeps doing stuff and getting in his way.
Find out what your users need and want and give it to them. End of story.
Though i haven’t had a chance to play with the OLPC, I am sure its a fine product. From Steve’s comment i think the OLPC should just be marketed as a low cost computer for those interested to buy for their children/themselves, and not specifically geared towards governments purchasing them for schools. The Give one Get one campaign was nice…but how were the ‘given’ laptops distributed? What rationale? I don’t mean to sound ungrateful, but I think that at a price like $100 how about seeing some free-market action going on in Africa? That is a whole other AID Vs TRADE debate right there.
On the power to charge OLPC: There is a larger question of power in Africa, which i won’t get into right now (though i will in the coming weeks) For a glimpse of the opportunity, Idris Mohammed mentioned the great opportunity in power generation during last years’ TEDGlobal. More here, and whenever his talk is posted, it will be on the TED site here. Erik did mention that there is a cranking device that can be used to power the OLPC, and browsing the power supply tab on OLPC news shows some novel and innovative approaches to solving the power problem. From a cow dynamo to something i like…the OLPC solar mesh repeater.
The company i referred to in the video is called Verviant. It is based in Nairobi and helps small to medium sized businesses in the East Coast of US to maximize on limited IT budgets. In speaking with Onesmus Kamau of Verviant, he indicated that the company was able to deploy a video management system that will save their client $500,000. It is but one example of the opportunity in outsourcing web development, database management, and software development in general. This infoworld article (albeit a few months old) mentions the hot spots for this being Ghana, Egypt, South Africa and Rwanda. I would also recommend watching Carol Pineau’s movie ‘Africa Open for Business’ if you haven’t already. The blogger Nii Simmonds, who will be speaking at SXSW writes about business in Africa,including outsourcing. His blog ‘Nubian Cheetah’ is a good resource, as is Emeka Okafor’s Timbuktu Chronicles. The PSD blog is also another good resource…(links to other outsourcing references are quite welcome, do chime in on the comments)
Mobile Phone Tech: I think between Mike, and Erik we covered this o.k. A sim card/chip costs less than a dollar…and the phone with a flashlight that I was referring to in the video looks like this.
On cell phone reach, here is one example of celtel’s reach illustrated in a post from a Zambian economist. My little screed last year about the iphone hints at the fact that i totally love the fact that you can choose whichever carrier you like when in Kenya/most parts of Africa. Its just a matter of switching sim cards and not having to worry about whether your phone will work or not. Most if not all the handsets in Kenya are unlocked.
On the parting shot: Customization and allowing for grassroots creativity. I wanted to mention that this idea is illustrated best by Chris Nikolson,in an NYT article, and context was added by one of my favourite bloggers ‘African Uptimist. Please see this post. It has some great examples that show how the idea (a strategic one at that) is implemented in the field. I felt like my brain had some speedbumps and for some reason Chris Nikolson’s name completely disappeared from my head. I think his quote is so important, let me amplify it again here if I may…
The best results are achieved when you move with the natural flow of grassroots creativity. Often, this means abandoning or suppressing preconceived notions, and building on spontaneous and creative adaptations of the new technology by local people to meet their needs.
One more link…Guy Lundy’s ‘Future Fit’ – An African futurist to watch.