Digital pioneer, architect of the information revolution and prophet of the computer age Nicholas Negroponte has been on the frontline of progressive ideas for over 40 years and shows no sign of stepping off the gas. He has personified the thinking and experimentation at the MIT Media Lab which he co-created and now devotes his considerable energies to the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) project. He must have a pretty impressive contacts book too.
OLPC goes back to the 60s as an idea and Negroponte describes a project with some laptops donated by Steve Jobs in the 80s taken to developing world countries with startling success. He is keen to point out in fact that it's not exactly an idea that needs to be tested. He says to national governments all over the world either get on board or watch someone else do it, but don't hang about or waste time with test programs and pilot projects.
I certainly never knew that 60% of the cost of my laptop is sales, marketing, distribution and profit. Take all those away and you're left with the screen as half the remaining cost (see Mary Lou Jepsen post). OLPC is running a very lean operation and divides its' time between visiting suppliers in Taiwan and convincing Federal Governments all over the world to jump in.
Every time the project is carried out, children all over the developing world 'swim like fish' in the digital environment Negroponte says. They're keen to learn and get stuck in with the laptop. In places with no water or electricity and certainly very limited access to books, the OLPC computers have massively improved educational opportunity and participation. Ironically while often seen as a damaging distraction to western kids, ownership and use of a personal laptop in deprived areas is a huge advantage. Perhaps it's because we have so much that we're so bored and cynical.
Most importantly to own a networked laptop with access to the internet means you've got access to the global conversation. You're a part of what's happening all over the world and can have a digital presence as influential and dynamic as any kid in San Francisco. OLPC machines are inspiring some interesting behaviour too. It turns out that after school kids are teaching their parents to read and write for example. In the Amari Refugee Camp for Palestinian refugees kids organise playdates to network their laptops and discover cool new stuff together. It's a movement with implications way beyond computers and internet access.
Nicholas Negroponte will be at TEDx Brussels December 6