Sunday, November 18, 2007


Neal Stephenson saw this coming back in 1995 when he wrote The Diamond Age - a cypherpunk tale of how technology empowers. It's the story of a very special book, an adaptive, interactive toolkit that educates the user in all manners of survival and leadership skills, and crafts a young proletarian girl who accidentally receives one, into a badass who changes the world order.

Any bets on what quantum effect the XO will have on humanity twenty years from now?
If you're living in the US or Canada, they've got a give-one-get-one offer going. Which sucks, because I can't get one. I really really fancy a laptop that has low battery requirements and is rugged. I could sling it on my backpack when I'm out trekking.

This laptop is the greatest thing that you can give to a bunch of growing kids. Kids are amazing with technology; their curiosity is boundless, and they're highly collaborative. A pilot program in India shows the speed at which illiterate kids figured things out.

To test his ideas, Mitra 13 months ago launched
something he calls "the hole in the wall experiment."
He took a PC connected to a high-speed data connection
and imbedded it in a concrete wall next to NIIT's
headquarters in the south end of New Delhi. The wall
separates the company's grounds from a garbage-strewn
empty lot used by the poor as a public bathroom. Mitra
simply left the computer on, connected to the
Internet, and allowed any passerby to play with it. He
monitored activity on the PC using a remote computer
and a video camera mounted in a nearby tree.

What he discovered was that the most avid users of the
machine were ghetto kids aged 6 to 12, most of whom
have only the most rudimentary education and little
knowledge of English. Yet within days, the kids had
taught themselves to draw on the computer and to
browse the Net. Some of the other things they learned,
Mitra says, astonished him.

"They would surf the Web -- is very popular
with them because they like games. And they would use
[Microsoft] Paint. It's very, very popular with all of
them. Because these are deprived children who do not
have easy access to paper and paint. Every child likes
to paint, so they would do it with that program.
However, that's all they could do. So I intervened,
and I played an MP3 [digital-music file] for them.
They were astonished to hear music come out of the
computer for the first time. They said, "Oh, does it
work like a TV or radio?" I said, in keeping with my
approach, "Well, I know how to get there but I don't
know how it works." Then I [left].

As I would have expected, seven days later they could
have taught me a few things about MP3. They had
discovered what MP3 was, downloaded free players, and
were playing their favorite songs. As usual, they
didn't know what any of it was called. But they would
say, "if you take this little box, and you drag this
file into this box, it plays music." They had found
out where all the Hindi music was on the Web and had
pulled it out."

Coming back to the XO, I must say, it's a freaking piece of work. This review has me very excited.

The Khairat Chronicles are very sweet.

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