The ongoing debate over the value of cheap and open laptops for users in developing countries as opposed to mobile phones continues, most recently with a post from Cory Doctorow in the Guardian UK. The One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) initiative, the most visible and audacious of the low-cost laptop projects, has been in the news recently for cutting half its staff and severely scaling back and refocusing its operations. OLPC had originally promised to promote economic development by distributing free computers to two billion children in developing countries.
Doctorow in the Guardian argues what we all believe in — that information technology is an essential ingredient to economic development. He notes:
Poverty and its associated problems – hunger, poor health, lack of education and disenfranchisement – are fundamentally information problems. Poverty is exacerbated by the high cost of discovering how your peers have solved their agricultural problems, of accessing government services, of communicating with distant relations who have gone to the city to earn on behalf of the family. Poverty and oppression thrive in situations where people can’t communicate cheaply and widely with one another about corruption, injustice and violence.