December 2, 2005
@ 06:03 PM

James Robertson has a blog post entitled The $100 notebook where he writes

Here's another breathless story on the $100 (actually, looks like it will be $200) notebook. There's some cool things about this, including the fact that it can be powered by a hand crank. However, there are a number of simple problems too -

  • For the truly poor, access to laptops isn't a solution. Access to clean water is way, way higher on the scale
  • Tech support. Ok - you hand out a few hundred in some remote village. What the heck do the new users do when there are problems?

This is a pie in the sky solution, IMHO. It's like deciding to hand out cheap cars, and only later noticing that there are no gas stations for the recipients to use. I understand that the people behind this are well intentioned - but laptops are only useful when there's a hell of a lot of other infrastructure supporting them. The well intentioned folks behind this plan need to aim a lot lower.

Attitudes like this really, really irritate me. The same way that there are rich people and poor people in the United States, there are also parts of Africa that are less well off than others. It isn't all one freaking desert with bony kids surrounded by flies from South Africa to Algeria. For example, in Nigeria there are probably more cell phones per capita in the major cities than in most parts of the United States. The fact that some people get to use the latest iPods and iBooks in the U.S. doesn't mean there aren't homeless bums eating less than three square meals and sleeping on the streets in the same zip codes. Yet I don't see folks like James Robertson posting about how every homeless person has to be housed and every orphan found foster parents before we can enjoy iPods and laptop PCs.

If the plight of people in Africa bothers you so much instead of criticizing those who are making an honest attempt to help with your "armchair quarterbacking" why don't you contribute some of your time & dollars. Put your money where your mouth is.