Let Them Eat Laptops: The Limits of Technicism

Winston, Brian
International Journal of Communication; Vol 1 (2007)

Nicholas Negroponte, the MIT Media Labs 'onlie begeter' and one of digital techonologies most persuasive salespersons, has a new project. With undeniable logic and unimpreachable intentions he wishes every Third World child to be given a laptop. His reasoning is that without education, all other attempts at development are doomed to fail and that since education can be accomplished by computers, the way to make good its grievous failings in the South is with computers. He has therefore developed an elegant device of considerable sophistication but great ease of use – a brightly-coloured, plasticencased clockwork-powered computer which costs (or rather, he promises, will cost) around $100. This contrivence, a toy in appearance but a serious machine in operation, is what he intends to give away in millions and, according to his own publicity, he has already apparently had great success both in persuading Southern governments – Rwanda, Libya, Uraguay – and manufacturers – Quanta Computers -- to back his scheme. Negroponte's website is somewhat coy about how much money the initiative will involve but the budget is clearly in the order of billions: two billion children in the developing world x $100 a machine. Seed money alone -- from the likes of eBay, Google and Norstar, all at $2 million each --would seem to exceed $12 million ( June 2007)