I am Jonah Bossewitch, a technical architect at Columbia's Center for New Media Teaching and Learning and a graduate student in Communications at Teachers College.
I have been following One Laptop Per Child for quite some time, especially since the issues around this project lie at the crossroads of the purposeful use of technology in education and social action.
But I also see the positive side, and I have a different viewpoint on what OLPC News has dubbed the "OLPC implementation miracle."
While OLPC News sees Negroponte's reliance on miracles as naively self-destructive, I think an examination of the processes governing OLPC reveal the underlying advanced mechanisms which appear like magic to the casual observer.
It is critical to recognize the culture and heritage which OLPC draws upon. Its processes have been honed over decades of development in the free software communities, and are embodied in the tools it uses to run its operation. As I say in Free Laptops: Creating, Producing and Sharing a Revolution:
The road to OLPC’s success is not only paved with good intentions, it has been fortified by structures and processes which have evolved to embrace and accommodate change.Surely the problems OLPC confronts are complex, and it is impossible to predict their precise impact and outcome in advance. This is why a process for handling change over time is more important than any specific plan. The ecology that OLPC has evolved from has demonstrated the ability to improvise as a team, which is more important than any particular dissemination plan or assessment measure.
These practices rely on honesty and transparency to achieve accountability and sustainability. These rules have supported communities with the capacity for agile, responsive, and self-determined growth. If OLPC can maintain the humility and self-awareness that mature free software projects have mastered, then they should succeed in spite of its critics.
Of course, the criteria for success will vary across countries and cultures, over space and time, and according to the eyes of the beholders.
Ultimately though, believing in the possibility of this miracle to succeed under these particular circumstances is a matter of faith, but why is that such a bad thing? If the faith is well placed, as I have argued in my essay that it is, then we have the power to shape its outcome. I believe that the impact of the OLPC will be partially influenced by people's perceptions and expectations, which in turn are influenced by the media, including OLPC News.
An overly fearful and pessimistic stance my actually hurt this project, just as a cheerful and optimistic one (realistic, not naive) can help it succeed.
A good friend of mine related these ideas to Kierkegaard's writings on Faith in Provocations: Spiritual Writings of Kierkegaard, Compiled and Edited By Charles E. Moore:
Faith, therefore, requires a leap. It is not a matter of galvanizing the will to believe something there is no evidence for, but a leap of commitment.It is all too easy to be seduced by The Power of Nightmares, but the world desperately needs miracles right now. Dreams need nurturing and participation to be actualized.
"The leap is the category of decision" – the decision to commit one’s being totally to a [an idea] whose existence is rationally uncertain and whose redemption is utterly an offense. …
[Free Culture] is not a doctrine to be taught, but rather a life to be lived.
Do you believe in the OLPC dream? And if so, how are you helping to make it happen?