[Air-l] One Laptop Per Child
Christian.Fuchs at sbg.ac.at
Christian.Fuchs at sbg.ac.at
Wed Jun 7 07:20:27 PDT 2006
Thanks to all of those who have commented and started discussion. I have
again thought about some of the points of discussion and tried to find my
own answers to the questions at hand that I'd like to share.
WHY CAN THE PRACTICE OF GIVING $100 LAPTOPS TO DEVELOPING COUNTRIES HAVE
STRATIFYING EFFECTS AND CREATE INEQUALITY OR DEEPEN OLD INEQUALITIES?
The $100 laptop is technologically old-fashioned, e.g. its clock frequency
is only 500 MHz. The global digital divide is about an unequal access to
material infrastructure, skills, usage capacities, and benefits concerning
ICTs on a global level. This problem today starts with the fact that most
people in developing countries don't have access to telephones, computers,
the internet, etc.
Assume that $100 laptops will be spread throughout developing countries.
What could be possible effects?
As these laptops are technologically inferior to Western technology, a new
divide between owners of advanced and ever-progressive technology and owners
of old-fashioned technology will emerge. The emerging divide then is not
about have and have-nots, but about those who have advanced technology and
those who have inferior technology.
Not technology creates inequality, but "technology transfer" is embedded
into unequal social structures that need to be changed at the same time that
ICTs are adopted in developing countries. Who will be able to buy such a
laptop of the social structures causing the global wealth divide are not
changed at the same time that technologies for developing countries are
advanced? It's not a technological, but a social issue.
WHAT IS INEQUALITY AND STRATIFICATION IN THIS CONTEXT? WHAT IS THE
I like to think of these terms in the categories of Bourdieu: Modern society
is based on the asymmetric accumulation of economic, political, and cultural
capital and hence creates different classes and class fractions which
control certain amounts of the different capital types. Modern society is
not functionally differentiated (Luhmann), but stratified (i.e. different
strata/classes are created that have different degrees of power) because it
is based on different classes controlling different amounts of different
capital types. That this means inequality is a moral judgement, it means
unequal opportunities for participating in society. The underlying logic is
the logic of accumulation characteristic for modern society. ICTs are today
embedded into stratified structures, they are an economic resource that
can't be accessed by all; and cultural capital needed for operating them and
the institutional capital needed for using them in empowering ways are also
not accessible to all.
Technologies for the Third World need in my view be connected to a global
redistribution of the different types of capital, this is not a technical
issue, Negroponte and his initiative seem to believe that the digital divide
can be solved technologically. The $100 laptop also doesn't take political
and cultural capital that is connected to ICTs and needed for their
meaningful operation into consideration.
I think that stratification and inequality are appropriate terms in this
case, because these are terms describing the dominant logic of modern
society. I like that Jan van Dijk in context of the digital divide speaks of
underlying "structural inequalities".
DO PEOPLE IN DEVELOPING COUNTRIES NEED ICTs?
People in developing countries have the same human rights as people in the
West. They have a right for food, social security, etc., and also for means
of communication and the accompanying skills. To provide developing
countries with inferior technology conveys the image that they are
considered as second-class citizens who are only in need of second-class
I think that technologies for developing countries should not create
dependency on Western standards that must be purchased because this would
reproduce the old mechanisms of colonial and post-colonial dependency and
Therefore I think that technologies for developing countries should be
adapted to local needs, autonomos from dominant Western standards and
economic interests, based on open source technology, and be distributed at
absolutely no cost. I think the last point is crucial because today there
are 3 billion people living on less than $2 per day. How should they be able
to purchase a $100 laptop? Selling these laptops in the end will mainly
create profits. What is needed is global redistribution and an advanced $0
laptop as expression of an emerging open source gift economy that quetions
the dominant mechanisms of exclusion, dependency, and value transfer that
has characterized the colonial and post-colonial global economy.
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