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February 14, 2005


So Nicholas Negroponte, founder of the Media Laboratory at MIT, is to bestow laptop computers on poor people for just $100. To the punters in Davos, where Negroponte was promoting his project, $100 probably sounded cheap: many were paying $100 an hour to be there. But in Mali, where 90 percent of the population lives on $2 a day, Nick's Laptop would cost people two or three months' earnings. During thoughtful exchanges on Worldchanging, Robert Neuwirth pitched in with a criticism of "top-down, tech-heavy approaches to democratization and globalization" - and others pointed out that radios and telephones score higher if you actually ask people what they need. As we learned from the extraordinary Sam Pitroda at Doors 4, back in 1996, connectivity is as much about the design of clever business models as it is about tech. Pitroda enabled hundreds of millons of people to gain access to telephony by designing the Public Call Office (PCO) concept - a low-tech, high-smarts system based on the clever sharing of devices and infrastructure. PCOs exemplify the kind of design skills that we need to learn from India (for example, at Doors 8) and adapt to our own situations.

Posted by John Thackara at February 14, 2005 03:08 PM


Apple (macs) and oranges, John.

While I'm not Negroponte's biggest fan, and agree that simple connectivity might be the priority for most developing communities, I can't let this stand.

You're comparing personal income and what you ASSUME to be a personal device (put aside your old-world, developed market assumptions, John! ;-) with a shared-use model.

Let's rethink the $100 computer, with a lifespan of, say - 5 years shared by, say 50 users. Let's add $100 of sundry associated costs (software, repairs, whatever) over that lifespan. That's $2 a year, each.

As you rightly point out, much of the necessary innovation is in clever business models, one of which could be spreading the financing of the $100 wonder over it's lifecycle.

I'm not saying that's a good thing or a bad thing, but you could and perhaps SHOULD say in the interests of balance and discussion that Negroponte's computer represents 0.02% of your Malian's income if he or she chooses to indeed have it as a personal device spread over a lifespan of 5 years; or if you like 0.00125% of their annual income if shared between a group of 50 applying for that purchase plan.

Simplistic maths to be sure, but not as simplistic as decrying Negroponte's suggestion out of hand with a bad argument.

I hope that doors8 will be less polemic, and more positive, balanced and fair argument about what technology could bring in tandem with social thinking and business design.

Posted by: Matt at February 15, 2005 01:39 PM

Hello John,

If you are not planning to publish my critique of this post, could you please mail the content back to me?

Otherwise, I will have to reconstruct it from memory on my own blog where there's not as much editorial control to the dialogue.

Posted by: Matt at February 17, 2005 03:12 PM

"100 dollar is too much for a computer" writes Douwe Osinga and present an alternative. He has a good point. Read his blog entry at:

Posted by: Teemu Leinonen at March 15, 2005 04:38 AM

I wish you all a happy New-Year from Belgium.


Posted by: kurt at January 1, 2006 01:48 AM

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