OLPC vs. mobile phones (was Re: merits of Lisp vs Python)

Paul Boddie paul at boddie.org.uk
Sat Mar 10 19:19:21 CET 2007

Gabriel Genellina wrote:
> En Fri, 09 Mar 2007 16:10:51 -0300, Tim Bradshaw <tfb at tfeb.org> escribió:
> > The electronic gadget people need in the developing world is a mobile phone not a
> > computer.
> What for?
> That requires a phone company, installed antennas everywhere, and
> available power to charge batteries. Without forgetting  you to pay the
> bill, of course.

"What people in the developing world needs is Iridium!" Oops! ;-) I've
heard of people doing interesting things with mobile phones in various
developing countries, and I'm sure that the infrastructure is
gradually expanding in some places, but the mobile phone is largely a
"consumer" device: you pay big corporations to use their networks and
to download largely frivolous content. I hardly think such things are
on the same page as the OLPC vision.

> I don't think OLPC would actually help people so much, but a mobile phone
> would be almost useless. Like it was -actually happened- donating nice
> computers for use in remote elementary schools with no power source.

Yes, such things were mentioned in the FOSDEM OLPC talk [1]. It's all
very well having rich Europeans or Americans (especially thinking of
people like Bill Gates who seems to opine regularly on such things in
a way which is unlikely to be completely disconnected to his business
interests) saying that all the old kit that people don't want any more
(because they must have that new quad-core laptop!) should be shipped
out to places that "need" it, but the issue is whether the recipients
really do need to have aging, power-hungry technology with special
waste disposal requirements when it finally gives up the ghost.

Sure, give people a bunch of old PCs (and why not all those CRTs,
too?) which consume tens of watts per unit. Do we have any old solar
panels to ship out with them? Or how about building some nuclear power
stations to go with all this equipment? Still a good idea?!


[1] Videos are available at http://www.fosdem.org/2007/media/video -
and in an open format, too. (Hint to any conference people thinking of
just uploading stuff to YouTube!)

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