Because “Fewer Dead Kids Without Laptops” doesn’t have the same ring to it

This One Laptop Per Child thing … I mean, I’m as much of a singularity-seeking technodork as the next guy, but really .. as far as I’ve read, these laptops are to be put into the hands of various children in dire circumstances around the world. How dire? Well the $100 laptops are specifically designed for use in remote and harsh environments where there is little access to electricity or the internet.

So .. wouldn’t it be somewhat cooler to take that $100 per person and spend it on infrastructure that brings .. well .. electricity to these kids? Or clean water and electrolyte balancing salts to kids who’re dying of a lack thereof? Or .. you know .. some fucking _food_ or something?

I don’t get the point of the exercise.


  1. Well that’s one of those arguments that assumes a lot. One, that food and water are what poverty striken communities need (as opposed to medical care or educational assistance to set up basic services, etc). Two, that it would be helpful if everyone working on relieving other aspects of poverty (such as lack of education) dropped what they are doing and focused on food and water relief. Three, that the basic education these laptops provide can’t help these people immediately make their situation better. I don’t know much about the OLPC project, and I don’t know if the assumptions I challenged above are true or false, but I think there’s more research to be done before writing it off as pointless.

    I often hear this kind of argument (why do x when you could be doing x), especially levelled against animal rights, but also against pretty much any form of giving that doesn’t target the most destitute humans on the planet. My response is always: Why shouldn’t people give help in whatever capacity they are motivated to? If you’re not motivated by world hunger but you are motivated to make cheap educational laptops, why should that be discouraged? Especially if the alternative is doing nothing, not even charitable giving.

    • Oh hai I writes a novel.

    • >If you’re not motivated by world hunger but you are motivated to make cheap educational laptops, why should that be discouraged?<

      Which all fine and good except that it's no better than sending wool socks to people in the middle of a heatwave; provide, yes, but direct the provision where it will have some impact.

      That said, this, IMO, is more about Being Seen To Care. That's why they spend so much of their time and money on advertising how caring they are.

      • You think they’re being sent to people who already have an overabundance of educational opportunities? Are they?

        • I guess you could extrapolate that as a possible position from what I wrote. Much like we could assume they were also being shipped individually and given out by Albanian midgets wearing tutus with as much likelyhood of being correct.

      • I think all of these aid initiatives miss the point that people living in countries where starvation is common are still having lots of babies in the full knowledge that there’s too many people living there already and there isn’t enough food etc. for the ones that are already there.

        What I think is the bigger crime is for these children to be born in the first place into a place that pretty much guarantees that they will probably die or at the very least have a miserable existence.

        There will always be an endless supply of these starving and in need children as long as the adults keep fucking and they will.

        I know it sounds drastic but bloody hell it is drastic, but A certain percentage of these people need to be sterilised until the population levels are back down to sustainable levels, I think this is true of a lot of over populated countries, killing someone is nasty but just making sure there will be less babies next generation I can live with that.

        And then by all means look after the children that are in need when there is a potential light at the end of the tunnel for the suffering, and then and only then give them fucking laptops hell give them the internet as well the laptop will be kinda boring without it.

        • There’s drastic, and then there’s taking control of peoples’ lives away from them. Look at the root causes, don’t impose a blanket solution because ‘we know best’. There are many things (ie getting the churches to stop saying that condoms are blasphemous and education about birth control) that could be followed up before taking away peoples’ rights.

          And are you volunteering to go tell ‘the certain percentage’ that their reproductive ability is being taken away from them? I’m sure that imposing such things would definitely stop bad medical practices, and in no way would encourage desperate people to take desperate measures…

          • The root cause is overpopulation in places where the land cannot support that level of population, education and birth control have not worked, especially in a society where having lots of children is a way to make sure some survive, yes it is taking control of peoples lives who have shown they cannot control it themselves, it’s not a case of “we know best” it’s a case of “they don’t know best” and have proven it.

            While we pontificate about personal rights, they condemn their children pain and suffering due to starvation and disease, and if you want to take a hands off approach then you should leave them to it, however I think it’s simple math, too many people not enough food, resources and infrastructure.

            To give any of them a fighting chance to gain education, food and healthcare the first thing they need is not 3 other children wanting part of their share of that, pure and simple.

            What’s worse 5000 children just not being concieved or 5000 children dieing of starvation and disease?

            I know which I would pick.

            Am I volunteering to do it, no I’ve done my charity work I thought the first 20 years of my life was plenty enough.

            Are you volunteering to disassemble the catholic church and run about Africa handing out condoms and teaching a people their culture isn’t good enough.

            I really don’t know which would go down worse me offering African men $500 to be sterilised or your plan.

            I might still be alive in the morning.

          • I definitely don’t have all the answers – I just think that we (or anyone) has the right to have that much control over someone else’s body. I know there are massive issues that neither you nor I can solve – I just think the body is sacrosanct (issues of what is already happening acknowledged..)

            There’s no easy solution – and I don’t think sterilisation would work.

          • Well it would work, whether you could get it done is another thing.

            It would have to be coupled with a massive education programme explaining why huge familys in over populated areas is a bad for quality of life.

            I don’t think China is having any luck with their plans that don’t involve sterlisation, what they have ended up with is an even bigger problem, no girls.

            I know it sounds nasty but the alternatives are even more nasty.


            Enforced sterilisation has a somewhat exciting history in India – mostly as a case study in how it doesn’t work.

          • Actually what works, and has proven to work, is educating women. Eugenics and forced sterilisation have been tried and failed by such spectacular assholes as the Nazis. There’s really no need to go back down that path. Educate women and the birth rate drops.

          • I’m sorry but I’m going to have to call Godwins Law on you as provoked as it may have been 🙂

          • That was foolish. Godwin’s Law states:

            As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches one.

            And I quote:Godwin’s Law does not, however, claim to articulate a fallacy; it is instead framed as a memetic tool to reduce the incidence of inappropriate hyperbolic comparisons.

            Godwin’s Law hardly applies to literal comparisons – the Nazis _were_ eugenicists who supported forced sterilization. You are a direct supporter of forced sterilization.

  2. Where the OLPC is coming from is how do you provide education in a *modern* world. You could force people to walk the same path as everyone else did out of poverty, or you could just skip a bunch of phases, and do something that is just as effective.

    OLPC provides education without teachers, provides adhoc infrastructure anywhere in the world without much co-ordiation or investment in fixed infrastructure, and works where they need it to work.

    I know I struggled (and even blogged I think) about how pointless it was when there are basic infrastructure problems, but on reflection, the OLPC is brilliant.

  3. My impression of this project is they’re not sending the laptops to children in famine stricken countries, lying weak from hunger, on the brink of death. They’re going to developing nations that will, say, have a schoolhouse where children go to learn but no electricity in the village. So the laptops will assist the children with their education, and then in future, when electricity comes to the village, the children will be computer literate.

    Count yr blessings.

  4. It makes a little more sense if you think of them as eBook readers with a WiFi mesh network.

  5. Just as a random thought: because pushing the upper lower class into middle class is more effective than artificially sustaining the lower lower class, since that allows the group as a whole to become self-sustaining.

  6. Ok so I agree what people need in these areas is definitely infrastructure and clean water and maybe better agricultural techniques and birth control and a whole bunch of other stuff but what is the one thing that will enable them to get all that stuff for themselves? Surely it’s education. And for education you need information and resources – and what is a laptop but a handy, portable container for a whole bunch of information?

    I really don’t know the details of this project but, done well, it could be very valuable.

    • What builds infrastructure is investment. People/companies will invest if they can make a good return on their investment (otherwise they might as well invest somewhere where they can). For a good return on an investment you need things like political stability, ie. not war, not huge corruption.

      Look at Nigeria and Robert Mugabe. There’s enough land and resources to not only feed their own population, but also export it. However when Mugabe’s thugs ran all the farmers and farm workers off the land, production stopped. Now Nigeria is having a famine. Not because they couldn’t feed the people, but because instability and corruption have stopped the process of growing food.

      Now under Schmoo’s immoral and irrational plan we just sterilize the poor, vulnerable population. Only then what? Well then Nigeria’s population implodes within a generation or two. Why invest in a market that has no labour liquidity? No domestic market? No growth? Well… you don’t. Now the smaller population is left to subsistence farm and we’ll have Nigeria’s people sliding back into the stone age. What FUN!

      There’s plenty of resources to feed people, even water them and provide energy for them BUT, only with stable, fair government. Without things like distribution networks for energy and goods, and basics like clean water, a good food supply and a health system, people suffer. Companies are quite prepared to invest in this kind of stuff, contracts for putting in power grids, building pipelines for fuel, roading contracts. But… business markets hate instability.

      The root cause is NOT overpopulation. The root cause is bad, instable government. The two countries with massive populations are China and India. But they both have stable governments and enormous domestic markets as well, and all supplied with cheap labour. Guess who the two new superpowers are shaping up to be? SHOCK! It’s… China and India.

      The question is… what helps create good government? Education!! What pushes down birthrate? Not educating women, because they tried that in India and it’s failed pretty much. There’s still massive cultural pressure to have loads of kids _despite_ maternal education levels.

      Nooo… What pushes down birth rate is social security. Retirement pensions halt birth rates. If the state guarantees to care for you, cradle to grave, you don’t _need_ a family of 10 kids to care for you.

      State Wealth = Low Birth Rate. Look at Japan, Denmark, Germany…

      Education -> Good Government -> Capital Investment -> Infrastructure -> More Wealth -> Tax -> Welfare -> Low Birth Rate & as an aside, no one starving to death.

      Schmoo’s argument is woeful and frankly, evil. But you are right. Education is a main stepping stone to health and wealth and a bright, sunny future. But good government is what makes it all tick.

      If you don’t believe me, read about what’s happened in Kenya in the last week.

      • I also suspect (and it all ties in) that people will begin to choose to have smaller families when the child mortality rate improves – ie if you can stop at two kids and be fairly sure they will both live to adulthood you might not choose to have another eight just in case – and will probably value the ones you have higher if you can be sure they are “keepers”.

        And, yeah, there is no ethical way to implement a forced sterilization program.

        • The reason we had a population explosion recently (ie. last 100 years) is not because women have had more babies, but because of lower mortality rates. 10,000 years ago you’d live on average until 35. If we want a reason for population growth blame Louis Pasteur.

          Another thing that drops population naturally is overcrowding. Both Australia and New Zealand had population booms from women having 12 kids (for example) in the C19 yet in crowded London or Dublin it was more like 4 kids.

          People in the developing world aren’t brute animals to be herded, castrated, vaccinated and drenched. They’re real people with an innate dignity, (and I know you agree here). Even if forced sterilization could really help poor societies, and it can not, it is still completely unacceptable and repulsive.

          The sick irony of the forced sterilization argument is that if people actually ask the vulnerable people living in difficult circumstances what they want, it isn’t sterilization at all.

          • While I agree forced sterilisation in developing worlds is no answer we do _as a people_ have to address the exponential growth problem our species is experiencing. At current estimates the world’s population will be 9 _billion_ in 2050. And half again by 2075. These are scary numbers.

            I support population control _across_ the planet. i.e max of replacement breeding, preferably decreasing population for a while till we stabilise. I include Ma and Pa Cletus in the midwest of America in that argument while they are thunking out their 7th little “miracle” from Jesus.

            The reason ‘pro-population limiting’ people always get tarred with the “anti-developing nations” brush is the sad fact that at the moment the developing nations are where all this excess growth is unfortunately centered.

            For the next 50 years the growth in the top 10 growth countries will account for 50% of this explosion and among these countries are the nations that can least afford more stress on their dwindling resources and infrastructure. Countries like Ethiopia, Nigeria, Pakistan and yes the USA and China are all in this top 10 that will account for the majority of the growth on our already bursting planet.

            It’s not a developing vs developed nation thing. It’s a Human issue and we have to address the problem where it lies. At home and abroad. I have nothing against _anyone’s_ right to have a child. But the least _anyone_ can do is do it responsibly. And since we respect people in developing worlds as people with innate dignity (which I do) I would also like to attribute them with the innate sense and intelligence to realise what is good for their nation and the world.

            Hell I’ve done my part and sterilised myself. So there’s my negative contribution of 2 to offset someone elses overshoot. I’m not asking for compulsory sterilisation, that’s just too new world orderish. But education campaigns and funded access to birth control in nations that have been infiltrated with christian dogma to boost the dwindling numbers of followers in the traditionally strong areas of South America. Now that is a fine idea.

          • So if I decide I want to surpass my allotted two can I give you call call and arrange some sprog credit trading? 😀

          • Hrmmm a system of carbon style trading for children. I like it. 😉 (kidding)

          • You’re begging the question, here. You’re using emotive terms like “These are Scary Numbers” without actually stating WHY they’re scary. Mind your science. Explain why the earth cannot cope with 12 billion humans in 2075, when it does fine with 6.6 billion in 2007 while being, statistically, pretty much empty land.

            I didn’t realise you felt so strongly about this – you do see that your writings on this issue have a slightly zealot-y ZPG tang about them? As such, be careful that your science is solid – especially given that everyone from Malthus onwards who’s grimly dicussed the resource shortage and population bomb that is about to hit humanity has been .. not to put to fine a point on it … totally wrong about everything.

          • Wheeeee…


            (long but the first few pages give the general idea)


            good article using the US as a single example.

            Sure the earth is statistically pretty much empty land.. but It’s more a question of resources rather than a question of space. If space were the issue I wouldn’t be complaining until we were starting to overpopulate our ocean wide underwater cities. however as an example…

            “A New Zealand scientist from the Central Institute of Technology says the present global population of six billion people is about 30% more than the earth’s biological capacity to sustain present standards of living, but growth may not even stabilize at the projected 10 billion by the year 2050. There are 51 billion hectares on the earth’s surface, but only 1.3 billion hectares are available as arable land 3.3 billion hectares available as pasture land.”

            The nasty thing about that last sentence is that we’re already using most of that arable land. Admitably we could gain a lot of it back if we stopped eating meat and it’s ilk (not saying I’m for that but we’re talking pure resource management here) since it takes 10 kilos of wheat to produce 1 kilo of meat. But that’s not realistic so a lot of our food resources are tied up in producing energy inefficient food.

            Yes a lot of the doomsayers have been a bit overly excited in their prediction of the end of society, but the basic concept is solid. It’s just the maths of the point where we hit the rather nasty wall that matters. And quite frankly we can see the wall on the horizon. Do we put the brakes on now and coast nicely to a safe speed or do we slam them on at the last min and hope we don’t get too damaged?

            To be quite honest I’m not _hugely_ insane about the whole thing but from an elegance and efficiency standpoint it sucks and as can be seen from nature _no_ population of _any_ species can indefinitely carry out exponential growth without causing the inevitable “crash and stabilisation” phase.


            In animals, always note the cycle when they hit the resource limit, now look at a graph of human growth and ask where we are right now on that slope, it’s up right now but that _cannot_ continue.

            I sum up with a fairly simplistic video that demonstrates the principle well..


            The lake analogy is the strongest lesson to take away from the video, and that is by the time you notice the problem it is _way_ too late. With exponential growth even if you can magically double your entire planets output it still only gains you one doubling period (about 35 years currently) before you run out again, and then you have to double that doubled resource level again.

            Just food for thought.

  7. My initial response was similar, but having read more, I think I agree that
    for the areas of the world that aren’t immediately starving, the thing they
    need most is education. These little laptops look like a really good way
    to deliver that. They’re quite a lot cheaper than the textbooks needed
    for a typical schoolkid, for example.

    Also, they’re not just cheap laptops. Aside from being rugged and designed
    to work with no real infrastructure (they mesh network with each other –
    no access points or routers required), the software stack is designed
    specifically for education purposes and to allow the kids to customize
    the things.

    A good halfway point to think about it is if a village has enough food,
    would sending them books be a good thing to do?

    – MugginsM