[Edu-sig] Some thoughts on the word "Laptop"

Jeff Rush jeff at taupro.com
Fri May 11 10:20:50 CEST 2007

Atul Varma wrote:
> Well, I imagine it's too late to change the name of the program, but
> to be honest the very name "one laptop per child" made me laugh out
> loud the first time I heard it.  I think it's because of the
> connotations that the word "laptop" brings: it's something that, 10
> years ago, was a yuppie status symbol, and I think that's significant.

> The word "laptop" comes with almost as much negative cultural baggage
> as "cell phone".

> On the other hand, I *love* the term "Children's Machine", which is
> what the OLPC laptop was originally called.  A "machine" is what I had
> when I grew up:

> So the word "Children's Machine" brings back memories of what I had
> when I was growing up: it wasn't portable like a laptop, but it served
> many of the same goals, I think, that OLPC is aiming for.

The problem is that ones associations with a word depend, to some degree, on
other things in your life.  "Laptop" was probably chosen because of the
connotations of "personal", "portable", "useful/practical" and "self-powered".
 I don't associate "laptop" with "yuppie", perhaps because I didn't develop a
negative association with that word but first saw them carried by
engineers/programmers and only later by business folk.  A laptop was something
that I as a kid wanted, but couldn't afford, personal, as in I didn't have to
share with schoolmates or siblings. Mine.

And for you "machine" has a positive meaning, as for me an engineer, but for
some it means "dehumanizing", "rigid/inflexible", "noisy", "bulky".
Definitely not something for children, unless you view them as resources to be
processed mechanically, an offensive idea to most.

>From my reading of your post, it sounds like you are referring to what in my
childhood would be the explorations with tinker toys, erector sets, lego
blocks, lincoln logs -- an open-ended set of pieces with which to tinker and
explore.   But to those people who don't understand the attraction, who lacked
such things growing up, those remain just toys for a child's distraction and
amusement, not something educational.  Now we as geeks know the power of such
constructivism, but many do not, perhaps intentionally due to its subversive

OLPC walks the narrow line between being pragmatic and having the appearance
of irrelevance while carefully hiding its dangerous, subversive nature.  It
will succeed as long as it keeps one eye on the amplification of children,
rather than that of teachers, administrators or governments.


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