I was in a cafe yesterday in Palo Alto and there was a woman talking in a very loud voice on her cell phone (why do people do this?) about how she was going to get her daughter “one of these new XO laptops,” which she said was a great thing to do because “you buy two, and they send you one and send the other one to a kid in a Third World country.” Mrs. Loud also seemed to think the XO machine was this super advanced machine and her little daughter was just going to be overjoyed to own one. I didn’t have the heart to tell her the truth. As in, the bugs haven’t been worked out, and there’s no tech support, and none of that nice educational software at the computer store will run on it. I know she’d just call me a racist or something.
Anyhoo, it occurred to me that people are really being victimized here. All joking aside, I think the hype around OLPC used to be just sad but now it’s shitty and misleading. Regular civilians have no idea what they’re getting into. They’re victims of this crazy social experiment and will get fleeced for 400 bucks just so that Czar Nicholas can carry on his quixotic crusade. Worse yet is that “reviewers” like Smurfy Pogue have been complicit in this by printing rave reviews and burying all the bad news.
One final thought on this. Yes it’s true that Intel and Microsoft came down hard on this XO machine and have tried to kill it. But it’s not because they hate kids. Negroponte brought this backlash on himself by going around telling people how he was going to free the world of the Wintel monopoly. The project was never about the kids. The kids were just thrown in as a (very effective) propaganda tool. The truth is this project was about hurting Microsoft and Intel. Look who’s funding it. And even while OLPC was talking in public about helping kids, off the record their message went like this: “Can you imagine how profound it will be to have one third of the world’s population growing up on a platform that isn’t Windows?”
That’s what brought on the backlash. Also, consider this. If OLPC really just wanted to help kids get low-cost laptops, they wouldn’t care if the kids chose machines from Intel or Asus. They’d just be happy for the kids, right? Yet they do care. In fact, they’re furious. That speaks volumes.