Saturday, October 06, 2007

OLPC linked to civil war, revolution and the prevention of fascism

new reddit comment thread about the OLPC in response to a recent NewYork Times article: Laptop with a Mission widens its Audience

cavedave asked on reddit:
"... could there be negative consequences to giving millions of laptops out to children in the third world?"
As well as the usual stuff (theft, blackmarket, porn, more outsourcing of IT jobs) there was some more interesting commentary about both negative and positive consequences (civil war, brain drain / revolution, makes fascism far more difficult)

I think these latter comments are far closer to the mark about the real implications of the OLPC. Negroponte's clearly stated aim is to by pass the adults, to skip a generation, and to leverage the children directly to dramatically accelerate an education revolution in third world countries. This will create some social turmoil, which might explain why some of those promised cheques have not been signed.

I've pasted in some of the reddit comments below.

Here's my attempt to come up with a nightmare scenario. By suddenly increasing the population's ability to communicate, you confront a government that hasn't had to deal with an active press with significant vocal opposition. In the ensuing power struggle, a civil war is started and millions die.

The probable negative consequences in the short term are brain-drain or revolution:

Theoretically, distributing millions of XO's means millions of kids gain internet access, computer literacy, and relatively western educations who wouldn't have before. (Most of the content on the internet is in English, and of western origin, so an internet education is a western education).

Knowledge, Access to advanced tools, and Education are empowering, so what will these empowered kids do when they grow up?

Many, the ones who really delved into learning all about and with their XOs, the ones who were especially driven to educate themselves despite living in primitive conditions.... What will they do? They will either leave their countries of origin so they can live in the developed world that they seen beckoning though the internet. Or, they will demand progress to drive their countries of origin toward a western model. There are precedents for both trends resulting from the introduction of western education into 3rd world countries.

Now, for all of that, progress would have eventually come to these countries anyway, and whenever it came there would have been war, and turmoil regardless. Likewise, relatively motivated and independent people would have been leaving the 3rd world looking for opportunity in the developed world anyway. The XO just changes the texture of the situation, not it's shape. It changes how many and more importantly which people end up as revolutionaries or immigrants.

Personally, I believe its ultimate impact will be profound and positive, but not fully felt in our generation. When immigrants enter a new country, it typically takes 3 generations for them to fully adopt the surrounding culture and language. What the XO does, in effect, is to move every child who gets one into a new country: the internet. Their parents and teachers who grant them access to the XO are the 1st generation, they are the second, and the 3rd generation... which will reveal the final form of this cultural phenomenon is still many years away. I hope that this will be the beginning of renaissance. How many potential mathematicians, and authors, and visionaries languish in nations without the education resources to cultivate their talents? Humanity always benefits from a level playing field in the long run.

Imagine for a moment the consequences giving all the children in Myanmar/Burma video-capable devices... The logistical task of confiscation by the Military junta would simply be impossible.


Anonymous said...

The only negative scenario I could envision is rather than finding real and enriching educational materials, radical organizations could "capture" them and turn them into recruits. It's been happening already. Thomas Friedman talked about this a few years ago, that young adults were finding propaganda on the internet, and because it was on there, thought it was the absolute truth. The "patina of technology", as he put it, gave it legitimacy it would not have had otherwise.

One of the main recruiting tools of al Qaida has been the internet, especially in Europe. I remember hearing analysts say with a sense of mystery that for some reason first generation Muslim immigrants have been living peacefully in European society, but their 2nd or 3rd generation children are becoming radicalized. The internet seems to be the reason. The children know about it, and know how to use it. Somehow they come upon jihadist websites, and become radicalized through them. Their parents are "technophobes" and don't go near the internet, so they're not affected.

The internet is just a tool. Depending on where the kids go, they can either learn real knowledge, or end up learning a lot of lies that leads them into a misguided life (presenting two extremes).

Unknown said...

I think Lucretius has got a good handle on it. Kids will get the Web, the whole Web and with it western secular culture. I have written my thoughts on this in the context of a Pacific island at

The ending point, western secular values, is probably inevitable, with or without the OLPC. There are many trajectories that can lead to this end point. There are countless examples of urban unemployment, crime and alcoholism along the many possible trajectories.

The adoption of western secular values will destroy traditional values and in the transitional phase, a lot of suffering can occur.

In traditional cultures, the web of kinship provides the necessary support for people to live full, meaningful lives, within the necessary economic and social limits of that culture.

Western culture provides similar supports through nuclear and friendship networks which have evolved in the economic and social context of that culture.

To put the internet in the hands of every village child is a big big experiment with commendable end goals but unknown transitional consequences