As I've mentioned in the past, one of the reasons I'm thankful for this blog is that it has given me a group of e-mail "pen pals" who provide invaluable insight to me. 

One of those people is a woman who, while very intelligent, has a blind spot for the One Laptop Per Child project.  She's been angry at me for some time because of my last OLPC post (which even I have to admit was a little harsh). 

Today she e-mailed me a stern admonishment over the OLPC project's continued failures.  The gist of that e-mail was "it's bloggers like you who have caused this."  But she's wrong and this video review by David Pogue of the New York Times (which she also sent) is a good way to show why...

At the end of this video Mr. Pogue says something that sums up my issues with the OLPC nicely...

I can see why the bloggers are a little bit snarky about this laptop.  There's no CD, DVD drive.  There's no Hard Drive.  The Processor is very slow to startup, to switch programs.  Although it's perfectly adequate once you're in the program. 

But think again.  This laptop is not intended for the snarky bloggers.  This laptop is intended for poor kids in other countries.

Well done Mr. Pogue.  Your argument is that this substandard laptop is ok because it's not for us rich Americans it's for those lower class people over in those poor countries.  You've convinced me!

Sarcasm aside here's the reality.  Non-profits are like any other business.  The only difference is that their customers are not the ones paying their bills.  But, like any other businesses,  they are supposed to serve their customers NOT the people paying the bills.

OLPC is a system that doesn't focus on it's actual users.  All it's "biodegradable this" and "solar powered that" are buzz words used to sell to politicians.  But the project itself is simply targeted at some phantom "poor kid" and because of that lack of specificity it isn't adequate for anyone. 

For example, they go on and on about the innovative power features.  But if you are a child living in a place that doesn't have ready access to electricity than a laptop with Internet access is the least of your concerns.  Kids without electricity don't sit around playing on computers. 

On the other hand, if you are a child in a poor country that does have ready access to electricity than we as Americans should be trying to get you laptops that work and act like the computers the rest of the world uses.  Not ones that have interfaces that look like children's toys.  In that way you can join the world community as opposed to being a lower class subset of it. 

So in closing, OLPC's failures are not my (or any other blogger's) fault.  They are the fault of a project that's more concerned with making it's founders feel good than actually producing a workable laptop for poorer countries. 

I still have hope that something like the OLPC project will come along to give kids access to technology but OLPC is not it and with every failure I'm more and more sure it never will be.

Addendum: When I used “useless” in the title of this post I did not mean “completely without use.” I KNOW it’s not completely without use. Sometimes, in the titles, I exaggerate for dramatic effect. It’s a bad habit. I shouldn’t do it but I do do it and I don’t seem to be able to stop myself from doing it. So e-mailing me on how this device isn’t completely useless is not going to change anything (though I do apologize for the implied inaccuracy)