December 13, 2007 |
We’ve mentioned several times before the engaging and quite cutting-edge (metaphorically, not literally) device known as the XO Laptop, a project that has developed from MIT experiment to captivating reality now backed by a full-fledged mission-esque organization, called One Laptop Per Child, or OLPC.
Many a question has been raised about the green and white and mostly-waterproof invention since it’s first public showing. Some have challenged the tenacity of the project’s pilot and foremost spokesman, Nicholas Negroponte, for even so much as attempting the global feat that is OLPC. They criticize, among other things, the group’s focus on the distribution of technology rather than more dire and immediately pressing issues like poverty and the numerous other unhealthy effects resultant from extreme economic and social destitution.
But OLPC so far seems to have weathered the gauntlet it has had to navigate over the past few years. And recent reports of its growing trajectory in terms of both direct and indirect (via charitable programs like that which is found at LaptopGiving.org) sales show it to be an initiative with more substantive promise than ever before. Clearly the concept is a hit.
Which brings to subject of why that is so. Why the XO has hit the spot, as it were, for a great many people. If one seeks the best and most straightforward answers, one should look no further than the demographic OLPC has been designed for: children.
Published yesterday afternoon in the BBC was a story of a fairly casual test performed by the company correspondent, Rory Cellan-Jones. The test was simple. Carry an XO “sample” home on a return trip from Nigeria, hand it over to Rufus, the reporter’s son, and see how it takes.
As you might now presume, having heard numerous stories and glowing testimonials from villages and schoolrooms in Africa, South America, and elsewhere, the reception of the XO by the 9-year-old Rufus Cellan-Jones was intriguingly effortless. He found it easily operable, saw the standard selection of custom-built software entertaining and useful, and more or less concluded it to be a fairly fun item to work with. Out of elementary curiosity, he even managed to somehow connect (the verb du jour is “network”) with children thousands of miles away wielding XO laptops of their own using the device’s built-in communications software. Which, I don’t really need to tell you, is pretty extraordinary.
Of course, it’s reasonable to assume Rufus to be somewhat versed in modern technology. He’s likely familiar with Microsoft Windows and instant messaging systems and child-oriented phenomena like Webkinz and whatnot. But I imagine it is also safe to think Rufus was entirely new to the OLPC platform. And if he can intuit how to properly utilize the XO for his educational benefit almost immediately, it’s fair to postulate the probability that children in places entirely new to modern technology in general may learn to understand how to use the device within a reasonably short time frame as well. The bulk of those targeted as intended recipients of the XO laptop will of course require instruction as far as matching things learned orally with things lexicographic. But children are known to assemble lingual skills, written or otherwise, rather quickly. With that in mind, XO looks like a very well-designed fit, yes?
And that’s the centerpoint of XO’s success. Design. If it were any other way, or if it were to be developed devoid of its networking resources or its entertaining interface or its resilience in relatively harsh environmental conditions, its chances of being discarded as a “what if” or an “if only” would certainly have been far greater.
Alas, the XO is complete with all critical components. So it is a success. As long as it keeps selling, anyhow. Fingers crossed, eh?