Transcendental Bloviation

Politics, Space, Japan

Monday, August 07, 2006

A Wikipedia in Every Pot?

I got too excited about this: Wikipedia to ship preloaded on $100 laptops. I clicked. And ... it's not what you would think (a speculative headline from five years in the future.) It's about what to shoehorn into the $100 PC of One Laptop Per Child, a machine that ""will be able to do most everything except store huge amounts of data" and hence can feature only a "selection" of Wikipedia articles.

I'm ambivalent about efforts like these to bridge the Global Digital Divide. I'm not even sure that the GDD is a big issue for solving the problems of the world's poorest. But if it is, maybe leapfrogging all the way to laptops is a bridge too far? I don't think the laptop really took off in the west until it got below $1500. It had to get to the point where, even if your livelihood didn't depend on mobile computing, you were willing to shell out maybe 10% of your annual disposable income to just have that in your life.

Something like podcasting of compressed speech from radio transmitters at regular radio stations would make more sense, I think. The screen (if any) could be much smaller. You also wouldn't need a full keyboard. You'd need only enough to buttons scroll through menus and make selections. It would be so much cheaper. And it wouldn't presume literacy, or not much literacy anyway (the menus could have voice prompts, for that matter). Where people earn a dollar a day on average and where only one person in three can read, what kind of unit could you design along those lines for, say, $10?


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