Tunnel Vision? OLPC

5 January, 2008

Tunnel Vision OLPC

EDITORIAL By Ron Teitelbaum.

You get what you pay for. The world is much better for all the corporate contributions to end poverty and the huge commitment over the years to help educate the worlds children. There is no question that the world owes a huge debt to these companies. Now that corporations have made such great strides throughout the world they should be paid handsomely for their computers and software. After all, corporate resources can never be matched by a Non-Profit.

These companies can spend their wealth to help make things better. They can afford to pay people to teach the teachers, and support their computers, and develop educational software for many many years to come. Of course they will do that without regard for expenses because they have so much money they can afford it.

Don’t believe anyone that tells you they are only in it for the profit or to enhance market share. Why shouldn’t they be allowed to create knockoffs and dump them on the market? Of course you get what you pay for. And they are paying for all of it, right? They will surely continue with our without competition from OLPC.

OLPC’s goal to educate the worlds poorest children, a vision of Nicholas Negroponte, could never compete. After all how much better can it get if all you are doing is eliminating the profit, engaging the worlds brightest minds, and providing the best possible platform for children to learn. Who cares if you developed a great little machine that uses fantastically innovative technology that will not only hold up to the extreme conditions found through out the developing world but will lead the way to new technologies for regular computers too.

Why do you need an education platform when you could just teach everyone existing standard presentation software. Why do we need education software for developing countries at all when we could just be teaching basic office skills instead? We all know that if the worlds children could just do a better presentation they could help themselves. All you really need is a good pitch and a good pair of bootstraps.

The endless pursuit of market share, the tunnel vision without regard to right and wrong, is what we are paying for. It is how the world works. The world has no room for idealism and lofty goals. We know that because if the corporations really believed in helping solve real problems they would be supporting and not competing with OLPC. They would be working to find a way to use their resources to help. They could support the project and include their hardware and software instead of directly competing. Why should they when the world is willing to pay them instead?

Be sure if you are backing the wrong side that you get it all in writing, and that you are prepared to accept less, if that is what you decide to pay for. The world doesn’t need a rugged little green child friendly extremely powerful education platform, go ahead and get pulled into the corporate solution instead, in the end you will pay.

7 Responses to “Tunnel Vision? OLPC”


  1. Here’s a fun question, “who’s done more to benefit the people of the world.. Bill Gates or Mother Terresa. How about Thomas Edison or William Shakespere.

    I think you’re right that we just don’t give people in modern corporations the credit they deserve when they do good things.


  2. You know, I wondered about this article. I wondered if the sarcasm was too much for people to get. If you are saying that we should recognize corporations that actively try to undermine worthwhile programs to satisfy corporate greed, then I agree with you we should recognize that.

    I agree that there are some very good things that come from corporate philanthropy, but I doubt that Melinda would be happy about a corporation trying to undermine the efforts of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

    Within this effort to educate the worlds children, if you haven’t guessed, I fully support the vision and the efforts of OLPC and Mr. Negroponte.

    – Ron Teitelbaum

  3. Gordo Says:

    Yeah, I didn’t catch the sarcasm at first… Thing is it’s so close to actual negative viewpoints I’ve read that it wasn’t clear you were lampooning them.

    I actually don’t have a problem with competition per se. What I have a problem with is a rich monopolist temporarily dumping product on the market lower than cost to kill competition — especially when that competition is a non-profit charity. Also, weaselly sales practices like purposely spreading FUD and inaccurate information about your competition are likewise deplorable tactics.


  4. Actually, I think we should give some credit to some of the good that corporation due just by serving their customers with new and innovative products and services. I know people can pick on drug companies for corporate greed, but what about all the people they cure and people who wouldn’t be alive without their products.

    But even more than that, what about all the people who they employ and actually have a good life because of the company they work for.

  5. lnxwalt Says:

    Ron, we’ve been sold on how much better corporatism is than any other way of looking at things. We have to understand that a corporation is just a group of people working together–and that people can work together with or without the corporate entity and the pecuniary interest to benefit themselves and others.

    Over the past few years, I watched the demotivating effect of our industrial age assembly-line education system. I think that one of the keys behind the XO (which is _not_ true of the Classmate and similar products) is that it is not about “push” learning. Instead, the child is a full partner in the learning experience, being “pulled” by his/her curiosity into deeper exploration of the areas that interest him/her most and in the process causing him/her to help teach neighboring children about the subject of interest.

    When I was that age, I discovered reading. Not just any reading–I was reading about space exploration in the days when Neil Armstrong was a household name–and soon exhausted the supply in the local public library. Fortunately, there were several other libraries within a reasonable distance, so I was able to “pull” myself through school. In third world countries, where there may not even be one library in the entire nation, OLPC and the XO laptop is the best and only hope to break the cycle that keeps the local populace in bondage.

    It saddens me that Intel could not figure out a way to bring its existing suppliers and distribution network into this very worthwhile effort.


  6. I think we all admire the achievements of Intel, Microsoft etc, and appreciate what those teams have brought to the world. However we don’t like to see them attacking (indirectly) the wellbeing of poor children because there may be a small amount of money to be made there. It’s crazy time at Intel – OLPC is a brilliant way to score brownie points for good deeds, it can fund low power chip research, surely is a tax write off, and ensures Intel will be branded in communities that will one day grow up and be shopping for a more powerful machine. Intel is today’s Nestle – making marketing decisions with an alibi of just “doing business”. OLPC can happily be CPU neutral or simply alternate with each generation choosing the most suitable chip each time. This was Intel’s chance to observe that there is a line in the sand – American corporations and shareholders must show that the normal rules of capitalism must be constrained when it comes to the underprivileged. Such foolish behaviour from Intel and it must be very disappointing for good people who work there. I think Intel recruiters will have to talk extra fast to win PhD hearts when they next go on campus. This joins a list of stuff ups since the Pentium 4 debacle. There are cooler places to work.

  7. Bill Waggener, Sr Says:

    Bravo, As a 72 year old child, I love the XO and I am sure that the child getting the companion XO will love it too. I am appalled at the behaviour of the Intel’s and their compatriots. I have had 50 years experience as an engineer and have used about every computing tool known to man except for the abacus. In that period the three most important tools I have used have been the HP RPN calculators, the HP200SX handheld computer and the Atari 1040ST. The Atari is the only one I don’t still have. The common denominator of these tools is computing power in a small package, compact software, ease of use and instant on.
    Windows has been the greatest deterent to progess in individual computing and advancement of personal computing technology. It has been a history of endless features and grossly bloated software.
    The XO is a refreshing look at computing software and a wonderfull example to children around the world. A pax on Intel and Microsoft!
    Bill Waggener


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