Criticism of the OLPC XO-1 concept

In John C. Dvorak's PC Magazine article "One Laptop per Child Doesn't Change the World", he writes:

Does anyone but me see the OLPC XO-1 as an insulting "let them eat cake" sort of message to the world's poor?
I like Dvorak and I often follow him on the TWiT podcast and CrankyGeeks on TiVo, but he polarizes issues in ways that sometimes aren't that useful, except for bringing attention to an issue. Hopefully the audience is paying enough attention to think for themselves, but that has proven repeatedly not to be the case.

In my view, if some service like "Mechanical Turk" pays living wages for these folks, then it was worth it. On average and over a lifetime, each of these students should be able to earn more than the cost/value of the computer.

Yes, the literacy rates and language barriers are an issue in making the computers useful at all. There would be, however, huge motivation to focus on literacy and additional languages, if some people are able to earn money with these machines.

So, Dvorak has given all of us XO enthusiasts a mission: enable students to make money using these machines by providing services like Mechanical Turk in the languages of the students and figure out how they can collect the resulting goods.

OK, I admit, this isn't a perfect idea. I've heard concerns that these laptops will be stolen if a market emerges for them and having them be a source of money would certainly make them valuable. This is also, to a degree, advocating some sort of child labor, which is a reality, despite the many objections we have in the developed world.

Better ideas?


  1. I'm surprised you like Dvorak...

    Maybe my opinion is not objective, as I don't read him, but I always see his name in a negative context - he dislikes some new product or he poops on some new idea. I wonder how he can still have influence with such a negative attitude towards technology.

  2. In defense of Dvorak, I happen to think the state of technology is really poor. Sure, there are a lot of great innovations happening right now, but those innovations pale to what is possible with a little bit of thoughtfulness about to what we are subjecting the world. Dvorak points out some of the problems with technology, and I find that to be a very good thing on average.

    At some points, such as with the OLPC, his criticism can sit right on the line between useful and pointlessly discouraging. Given that the subtitle of my blog involves "ranting" about technology, I have some sympathy for Dvorak. Nevertheless, I hope that I can manage to be more in the vein of Mark Pilgrim, who provides both criticism and answers.

  3. Well, I am certainly not as versed as you are in the technology itself or the politics or the politics that surround the issue, but Dvorak is in the "Show Biz" game.

    I am not too sure just how powerful he is, my guess is that he's just a guy earning a living that's playing with "new media."

    Not too sure if he's taken seriously or not. Just my two cents.