Sunday, January 29, 2006

MIT's Green Machine Earns Props from the ZenFo Pro

UN supports project aimed at providing cheap laptops to students in poor countries

United Nations News Centre

28 January 2006 – A pioneering $100 laptop programme, designed to give children in poor countries access to knowledge and educational tools, came a step closer to realization today with the signing of a partnership agreement in Davos, witzerland, between the main United Nations development agency and the organization responsible for the initiative...


If you thought iPods were the best invention since sliced bread, well, get over it.

Until Americans start buying those nifty little things, stripping the crappy pop music off of them, and turning them into something that actually supports something other than the Apple shareholders, they are just overpriced Mp3 players.

The rest of the world needs real solutions to ending information poverty, not more trinkets. Ghana needs more telecentres, Ethiopia needs more Internet Cafes, and there are hundreds of millions of children on this planet who are lucky if they ever learn to read.

Entertainment technologies may make life for the Industrialized World more comfortable, but bringing information technologies to the world is a pressing need that will help end poverty, halt the spread of disease, and make the planet a nicer place to live.

The ZenFo Pro gives mad props to MIT Media Lab's $100 Laptop Project. The product was formally unveiled at last year's World Summit on the Information Society in Tunis.


Voodoo Child said...

Interesting idea. How it ends up panning out for working against information poverty, I'm not exactly sure. How many of the countries they're naming would end up restricting information so much that they would just become another tool of propaganda?

Alice: In Wonderland or Not said...

Despite the fact that I love my ipod....

The above is a great idea although I wish they would start soliciting money to actually go in and save darfur rather than providing a means for propaganda to be spread which is partyl what I see it as.

The ZenFo Pro said...

Good point. There are two big obstacles that most Digital Divide scholars (including myself) tend to find common ground:

1. Low-cost availablity of ICT.
2. Equitable access to ICT.

The MIT project is a step in the right direction, I think, towards availability. But addressing access issues - which encompass everything from internal state information infrastructure to governmental regulation to policies restricting/promoting content flow - is an equally important hurdle.

Propaganda, alas, is a socially acceptable part of an information society. In the U.S., we've got propaganda 24-7, because every frigging special interest group wants a piece of the action. Fortunately, we (supposedly, as an Industrialized nation) have the tools and free speech protection to allow for the free flow of ideas.

Lol...that was way too research oriented for a blog...sorry, dude :)

I figured you were an iPod fan ;) Getting funds to improve the situation on the ground in places like the Darfur region may help in the short term, but Darfur needs international involvement, diplomatic and military.

Sadly, everybody's too damned distracted by the smoke-and-mirrors of everyday politics to give a damn about the world's hot spots. That's what happened in Rwanda and Uganda during the Clinton years, and what we're continuing to see.

Propaganda is a problem, which is why information literacy is extremely important in the Third World - and third World dictators know it. Knowing how to collect, evaluate, use, and create information makes a population less succeptable to politican manipulation.

Lol...again...'nother way too deep point for the ol' blog :)

Anonymous said...

Nifty device if info isn't restricted or biased. Big IFs.

Remember those Freeplay wind-up/solar radios? Brilliant idea. I have one in case of tornado. Though they were introduced two years after the Rwanda genocide, I wonder, if they had been around and widespread, would the broader access to"information" (the radio broadcasts to "kill the cockroaches") have incited even more people to violence?

Technology can only do what people make it do.

The ZenFo Pro said...

Good point, again. But it's worth the risk. For every Rwandan state broadcaster, there's somebody with an equally powerful broadcasters, like Jean Dominique, Haiti's voice of insurrection against the Duvalier Regime.

Information is power, and with power comes great responsibility - and the ability to abuse that power. You're definitely right; technology is only as good as the people behind it.

I have no illusions that computers are the solution to world peace. A tool, but not the solution.

I expect the 21st century will probably end up being the bloodiest century in recorded history, if we don't learn the lessons from Printing Revolution - quickly.

Sure, people got a chance to read and literacy became an equalizer between serf and lord. But then there's the Spanish Inquisition, the Reformation, and, of course, ultimately, several bloody revolutions, the rise of colonial superpowers....

Lol...posters making me think all day. Damn. :)

Voodoo Child said...

"Propaganda, alas, is a socially acceptable part of an information society. In the U.S., we've got propaganda 24-7, because every frigging special interest group wants a piece of the action."

That actually works for us, with a barrage of propaganda from every direction, it becomes possible to get a sense of a middle ground, and have something to contrast against. Sadly most developing nations, the places they're attempting to create this admittedly brilliant pieces of technology for, pass through a point where all propaganda comes from one central point with nothing to contrast against. With this influx of technology, it's possible that these country's propaganda machines will actually win out in the end, and create an information environment similar to China's.

No worries about the research, it's a good topic.

The ZenFo Pro said...

Very good point. We live in a propaganda culture, ours being fed by capitalism and the quest for power. I think I get where you're coming from week already :)

I think that's where we come in - the West. We have to make sure this technology is for ALL people, not just those seeking to control the flow of information. Nepal is a prime example. The information ministry there has the ability to almost completely cut off all telecommunications - in or out. Yet quite a few industrialized nations still maintain diplomatic relations and have put no pressure on them to open up access.

What if freedom to access information became tied to, say, foreign investment? Or financial and military support? That's been one of the big hypocricies of U.S. foreign policy for decades - during the Cold War, we were propping up dictators who restricted free speech, press, and basic ICT so we could supposedly stay free.

What if we worked to change that?

Damn. Revolutionary side is coming out :)

Dude, take a look at this...

Content creators, publishers, and producers, as well as teachers, trainers, archivists, librarians and learners, should play an active role in promoting the Information Society, particularly in the Least Developed Countries.

- WSIS Geneva Declaration, Sec. B, Art. 4

What would happen if, say Western librarians, staff, IT folks, etc., took this literally? If we started working with, say, diaspora groups to build dissident web sites? Or identify resources? my brain is really going.


Voodoo Child said...

"What would happen if, say Western librarians, staff, IT folks, etc., took this literally?"

what would happen? probably with my system, our funds would dry up thanks to CIPA, we'd go bust on another few locations, and end up getting cut to hell and back come budget balancing time. -i kid-

It always amazes me to see how frequently librarians (and library support staff, I'm kind of middle ground there, neither technically librarian, nor just circ staff) are included in on all of these big plans for america and the ideal of freedom in general. Being named specifically as informational freedom fighters through a world summit, having our budgets tied directly to what most people think of when they think essential services (fire and police), and for the massive amounts of action taken directly by library organizations.

Maybe librarians need to finally mobalize. There's been a huge influx of young blood into the library machine, maybe we'll take a stand like our predecessors used to in their much-younger days. Maybe shushing-librarians are out and revolutionalist-librarians are in. I'd like to think so, because I know I'd be right there, on the front lines helping out in any way I could. And I'm not just talking about reading controversial books, or slapping on a bumper sticker, I'm taking true life activism.

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