[Air-l] air-l Digest, Vol 23, Issue 6: OLPC discussion

Andre Brock albrock at uiuc.edu
Wed Jun 7 14:15:14 PDT 2006

pragmatics and common sense are not applicable outside of your own
frame of reference.  My family always references the difference
between 'street knowledge' and 'book knowledge' - lack of one will get
you killed, lack of the latter  will get you fired.

the assumption that Africans will use a laptop for a shovel is not
like you using a dutch oven to move snow.  i wasn't picking on you;
it's just that your comment was the most blatant of a number of
comments that on the surface address the 'practicalities' of bringing
techonlogy to Africa but underneath are filled with assumptions about
the capacities of Africans who are not users of IT in the ways that
the Western world respects.  your comments about exporting ideology
and knowledge sound more like an assumption that Africans don't
already have the knowledge or networks  necessary to 'properly' employ
these laptops.  why is that?

Despite the PR pictures i've seen (as you may have) of malnourished
Africans crowded around a laptop like Negroponte's OLPC, there are
more than a few places in Africa with thriving ISPs, corporate offices
on the Internet, and cybercafes.  i'm painfully aware, as a digital
divide researcher and a minority, of the deficit assumptions that
power DD discourse.    there are literally millions of africans (and
african americans, for that matter) who can and would use these
laptops not only for their intended purposes, but probably hack them
for purposes of their own.

The point where i do agree with you (strangely enough) is about
knowledge.  but that knowledge should be user created content about
the world that they live in, not random abstract knowledge about
things in the Western world that don't matter a damn to someone in
Burkina Faso.

will their usage live up to our expectations?  probably not.  but the
best resources about ICT usage indicate that the best way to learn
about computers is to to let people play with them without fear of
reprisal (have you read Neal Stephenson's Diamond Age?  that's a good
illustration of what i'm talking about).  let's put them out there and
see what happens.


On 6/7/06, Jeremy Hunsinger <jhuns at vt.edu> wrote:
> Look, i've used pots and pans for shovels before to dig my way out of
> snow drifts before i could afford a shovel. I've also used my old
> computer as a stepping stool.   if there is a practical use for
> something that goes above and beyond its immediate projected
> usefulness, you can believe that people will be smart enough to use
> it that way.  It is pragmatics and common sense.  If the use value of
> an object is higher in another mode of use for whatever reason in a
> particular situation, then it will likely be used that way.  if the
> use value of information technology is less than that of using it for
> a another need, people will tend to use it for the other need.   it
> is not 'racist' to admit that.   I've lived in rural areas in the
> u.s. and urban areas and let me tell you, people do not always use
> things in ways that I would use them and I don't expect that of
> anyone else.    Do you?
> The laptop... has built into it a certain ideology and set of western
> norms.   There is a huge mental and knowledge infrastructure that
> goes into giving laptops the 'aura' that they have in our everyday
> lives.   there is a ton of evidence that has shown that just giving
> countries computing infrastructure is not enough to transform them
> into learning or knowledge societies, there has to be an education
> program to parallel that infrastructure and then there has to be a
> plan for sustainability of the infrastructure also.   In short, we
> have to export the ideology, norms, and knowledges to make things
> work the way we think they should work.  However, it should be
> granted that not everyone thinks that we should pursue the
> normalization in parallel to the distribution of technology...
> However, then why are we designing the infrastructure according to
> our norms.
> my point is that this program has no educational or sustainability
> program iin place and thus what will happen to it?   what would you
> do with the computer when the computer no longer works? or you can't
> figure out how to work it for some reason.
> as far as i can tell this whole $100 laptop program is predicated on
> the idea that technology can solve problems.   Technology is just a
> tool, humans solve problems.  If you don't give the humans the
> knowledge they need to build and sustain their own technological
> infrastructure, then in my opinion, you are just creating a larger
> digital divide, you have created a divide based on dependency.   That
> will tend to develop into class divides much as happened in
> colonialism, is this project different than a digital colonization?
> I'm not sure.
> The project that I really liked in this field was the simputer, it
> had a plan for education and sustainability, but costs got out of
> hand,  much like the costs of the $100 laptop have.

Andre Brock
PhD Candidate - Library and Information Studies
Project Athena Fellow
POSSE Mentor - UIUC Posse 2 (217.333.4693)
University of Illinois - Urbana-Champaign

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