Accretions - reply to Negroponte

Fata Morgana
2010-11-29 17:35
reply to Negroponte
Public
I couldn't help but submit a comment disagreeing with parts of a recent post by OLPC founder Nicholas Negroponte on Boston Review. The original post to which he is responding, though, is excellent, and I really recommend reading it for a critical take on "ICT4D" (Information and Communication Tech. for Development). I'm reposting here to help me keep track of it (and for your potential horror/amusement/edification).
"Laptops arrive, and generators-for-hire appear, or suddenly, as in Rwanda, the school is electrified." -- I don't know about Rwanda, but I have spent time in Perú, and laptops in schools without power don't magically get charged by libertarian fairy godparents with portable generators; they just *don't get used.* The Peruvian government had to step up by buying solar panels, though last I heard, these were still not actually distributed.

"In Peru and Paraguay, local, independent software developers and repair shops start popping up." -- Huh? Where in Paraguay are these? I've spent five months there studying their OLPC deployment, and the only repair shop I know of is run by Paraguay Educa, which also deployed the laptops. And the software has been developed by them or through their outreach, as well. Don't ignore the hard work that deployments are putting in to create this capacity. It doesn't just spring fully-formed from the forehead of a community.

"Imagine I take a five-year-old from the most rural part of India and drop her in Paris for a year. She will speak French by the end of that year. Did Paris magnify her knowledge of French? No. It created it from her potential to learn language." -- No. It WOULD be created from the concerted kindness of French people in teaching her, as WELL as her ability to learn (definitely helped by her age). But if nobody talked to her for a year, or if she stayed in a community that spoke only her language within Paris, there is NO guarantee that she would learn French.

"... all of us who can afford a laptop buy one for our kids." -- My research on middle-class parents in Silicon Valley, including many who themselves work in the tech industry, indicates otherwise (forthcoming in CSCW 2011; advance copy available at http://research.morganya.org/ames-cscw11-class.pdf). Many middle-class parents have been massively restricting their children's access to technology -- including computers -- to the very ages that OLPC is targeting. (It's working-class parents who give their children more freedom with technology.)

On the topic of independent evaluations, there are a number out there and many more in progress. Plan Ceibal in Uruguay has been publishing eyes-open (though mostly descriptive) evaluations of their countrywide project. BID will be publishing a (not that favorable) evaluation of the project in Perú soon. I will be writing up my dissertation and publishing it in the next year or so. I recently co-wrote an article with Mark Warschauer that has been published in the current issue of Journal of International Affairs. And there are many evaluations of pilot projects. We're working on it ...
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jofish22
jofish22
2010-11-29 20:22 (UTC)
(no subject)
yeah, nicholas has really been talking out of his ass in that series. it's made me love kentaro all the more.

but excellent on putting in a coherent and measured comment. now if only he'd read it.

suggestion: send it to nicholas directly. he's nn@hq.media.mit.edu. be prepared for him to be brusque and rude in reply.
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The Limitless Potential of a Slap to the Face
starchy
2010-11-29 21:14 (UTC)
(no subject)
Thanks very much for sharing. I recently applied for an ICT deployment job with Inveneo, so Toyama's article has been very much on my mind. I hadn't gotten around to reading Negroponte's, but I'm even less sure if I'll bother with it now.
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Fata Morgana
chimerically
2010-11-29 22:25 (UTC)
(no subject)
Well, it's illustrative of the kind of people you may encounter pretty often in the field of ICT4D, but I'd recommend not making yourself go through the pain more than necessary. Let me know if you get the job, though -- I'd love to hear about it!
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The Limitless Potential of a Slap to the Face
starchy
2010-11-29 23:51 (UTC)
(no subject)
It would be an interesting change, to be sure. I agree with a lot of Toyama's criticism's, and in particular I doubt that social enterprises are the best way to get a lot of this work done, but at the same time I think increased access parity can do an incredible amount of good when it is well thought-out.

Waiting around for the best way to do something is a good way to never get it done at all, but ignoring all of your actions' consequences is just irresponsible. If you advocate a solution, I think your responsibility to respond to its realities and work to improve its results. Negroponte might think his responsibility is still to defend the Platonic ideal of his solution instead.
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Fata Morgana
chimerically
2010-11-30 12:30 (UTC)
(no subject)
Agreed. The best projects I've seen, including the OLPC deployment in Paraguay, keep their eyes open and direction agile to acknowledge and adjust to what's actually happening. It's really difficult, but social change always is. But I suspect Negroponte is pretty well insulated from having to deal with actual results.

Perhaps, like a politician, he's afraid that any show of weakness will be blown out of proportion by the ravenous press and lead to the project's downfall. Of course, that works a lot better in a totalitarian regime (or a corporation), when there aren't other sources of information, but the historic closedness of OLPC has been crumbling from the voices of all of those with deployment experience and different perspectives.
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trouble at home
troubler
2010-11-29 21:28 (UTC)
(no subject)
christ, what an asshole.

sorry for profanity I guess, but by the time I got to the quote about an indian 5 year old "dropped" in Paris for a year I wanted to barf.

Check out the lithuanian 14-year-old girls "dropped" in paris for longer than a year. Check out the muslim teen girl in a headscarf. or indeed that indian five year old. It's not just kindness, it's time and institutional support: if paris doesn't accept her into school, doesn't hire her or her family members in jobs where they have to interact with French people in french, if they don't provide social services that allow them to depend on anything other than family and ethnicity.. hell naw they won't speak french.

and i love how he can just pronounce that with no evidence. Does he believe in science at all? as in, evidence to back up a statement? arrrrgh.

thanks for your comment. putting some much-needed reality back into the story.
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Fata Morgana
chimerically
2010-11-29 22:23 (UTC)
(no subject)
Indeed! (That's the part of the response I keep wanting to beef up every time I re-read it.) I've caught him parroting suppositions made on OLPC News and wild guesses made by politicians as if they were fact, too.

Interestingly, these "facts" are usually in support of a pretty consistent ideology, which is perfect for my analysis. (He can be mercenary when he wants to be, as evinced by his flip-flopping on the Microsoft/open-source issue, but it's pretty easy to tell the strategy from the ideology.)
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Kragen Sitaker
kragen
2010-11-29 22:47 (UTC)
(no subject)
It's unclear from your comment that Negroponte was asserting that independent software developers and repair shops actually have started popping up.
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Fata Morgana
chimerically
2010-12-01 06:24 (UTC)
(no subject)
Yeah, I should have quoted more of it ...
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cyberlyra
cyberlyra
2010-11-30 00:43 (UTC)
(no subject)
Go Morgan!
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(Anonymous)
2011-01-16 23:48 (UTC)
provides access
I wanted to say that it’s nice to know that someone else also mentioned this as I had trouble finding the same info elsewhere. This was the first place that told me the answer. Thanks.
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(Anonymous)
2011-01-17 08:52 (UTC)
painter 11
Great job on the blog, it looks great. I am going to bookmark it and will make sure to check back weekly
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