The hundred dollar laptop and the Third World
One of the more interesting stories buzzing around the Internet is the imminent release of the $100 laptop, a project of Nicholas Negroponte of the MIT Media Lab. The laptop isn't meant to be commercially sold, rather it is part of a humanitarian endeavor to put laptops in the hands of poor children in third world countries.
It's a wonderful idea, and orchids to Nick for thinking it up. Perhaps my cynical side gets the best of me, but when the folks in the Ivory Tower and government agencies try to do something for the poor folks, they usually don't quite get it quite right. Like providing hundreds of mobile homes to Katrina victims, and then not letting anybody live in them because they don't meet code, for example. I've visited, and lived in some of those third world countries that are on the list to get the laptops, and I know they will do some good. But of course, probably not as much good as one might think. Walking through the busy border market in Poipet, Cambodia, I saw evidence of plenty of benevolence from the West, in terms of huge bags and crates of goods donated by various non-profits. Unfortunately, two things struck me about those donations.
First, a great many of the goods wound up for sale in the border market stalls. Second, a lot of the goods were completely useless to poor Cambodians.