On September 11 of all dates, Michael de la Maza proposed that the Children's Machine XO could be the next must-have for revolutionaries worldwide. With his Guerrilla Warfare and the OLPC post on the OLPC Wiki, he felt that:
The OLPC will serve as an inexpensive and effective communication device for guerrillas. Many of the features that children want in a computing and communications device are also features that an irregular army would want: the OLPC is hardened; the OLPC is small; the OLPC is multi-functional; the OLPC is innocuous; and the OLPC is human powered.Reading that, I couldn't help but chuckle at its preposterousness. Can you really image any self-respecting insurgent accessorizing his all black and AK-47 look with a bright green laptop? Or a government allowing OLPC's to proliferate and operate if they are adopted by armed militia?
Neutralizing the OLPC is difficult. Destroying OLPCs is politically unpalatable. Jamming the OLPC is not cost effective except for high value missions.
Then, I read Lee Felsenstein's And Now for the Bad News post and Michael's idea didn't see seem so far fetched. Why? Because its not revolutionaries that may use the Children's Machine XO to facilitate destruction, but the very youth its intended for. A much different kind of gang charger. To quote Lee:
I suggest that there is a darker side to such youth culture when it is empowered in societies with limited wealth and significant degrees of privation.Authorities, and that would include parents, teachers, community leaders would be impotent if they are ignored during the OLPC implementation process. If students are taught to "learn learning" in the absence of guidance and direction from elders who can instill the moral values required for the youth to develop and accept their cultural norms and rules, what is to stop them from using the OLPC XO to obtain their "wants" in the most efficient means possible - theft? Or as Lee says better:
I expect that this dark aspect would appear in the development of gangs of children ready to steal whatever they could and empowered by the laptops to run circles around the institutions of adult society which supposedly work to suppress such forms of acquisition. In urban environments the authorities, both official and informal, would be completely outclassed and rendered impotent.
Children will be empowered far beyond the power available to their elders - and they will be intentionally left to their own devices.Lee then suggests that the OLPC distribution model be reversed, that adults should be the first to receive XO-1 laptops and then children, as the community develops ways to incorporate the technology into its culture.
I put it to you - is this not a recipe for disaster? Where is moral instruction and cross-generational communication of values in this model? Can we afford to carry out mass experimentation to find the answer empirically?
While that may be effective in certain situations, especially where information and communication technology is completely alien, I don't think One Laptop Per Child needs to be so inhibited in its roll out. In areas where cell phones are prevalent and computers familiar, a comprehensive OLPC implementation plan with a focus on cultural integration could be sufficient if both recognize that no matter the child-centric dreams of Nicholas Negroponte, teachers (both the formal and informal kind) are the key to a positive OLPC-enabled youth culture.