Dvorak's Logic Continues to Amaze
I don't often do a "me, too" column or blog entry, but the latest screed from John Dvorak really set me off. Overnight, I outlined what I wanted to say, and then discovered that Bill Thompson over at the BBC had already written most of the salient points I wanted to make.
So, in fairness, he gets top billing on LT front page today, and this entry will be a "related link." A "me, too," if you will.
Thompson is absolutely correct when he chides Dvorak (or whatever writer was using the Dvorak non de plume this time--the byline is supposedly shared) for coming down on the OLPC has a bad solution for the poverty-stricken nations of the world.
Dvorak would be right, if the OLPC XO-1 laptop were the only solution being presented. But obviously it's not, because there are still food, medical, and other aid programs in place. No one has ever marketed the project as a total solution, and to imply that the OLPC organizers and sponsors think that way is a complete and total hack job.
The truth is, the depth of poverty in this world is so complex and so deep, it will take many solutions, many years, and many sacrifices to get things back on track. Disease, authoritarian governments, lack of infrastructure... three among many things that are holding developing nations back. The OLPC can't cure the AIDS pandemic, can't elect real leaders, and can't build roads. Nor will it try. But it will, as Thompson wonderfully outlines, give education a fighting chance to take root in these countries.
Perhaps the OLPC will be one teaching tool among many that will teach a child how to be a doctor, or a leader, or a civil engineer. We don't know. But isn't it worth a shot to try?
I read somewhere recently that Western society often ignores what's going on in developing countries because they simply cannot grasp the enormity of the numbers involved. According to the Until There's A Cure Foundation 22 million people have died from AIDs thus far, and an estimated 42 million people are living with HIV/AIDS, with 74 percent of these infected people live in sub-Saharan Africa. In the US, we cannot comprehend those numbers. Even if put it into local terms--it would be as if the entire population of Texas had died, with the citizens of California and Virginia infected--the numbers are too big to grasp, unless we make ourselves pay attention.
That, I think, is one side-effect of the OLPC that Dvorak willfully ignores: the fact that the OLPC gets people--geeks, like us--to pay attention. There is no universal fix for the problems of the world. Daunted by the sheer size, many turn away. What needs to be recognized is this: no one person, no one idea, can fix it all. You have to start by helping one person at a time, through one idea at a time.
Whether its a cow or goat from the Heifer Project, or a bag of rice from CARE, or a medical staffer from Doctors without Borders, or a laptop from OLPC: any effort to reach out, any effort to make a change, is worth it.
So, by all means, Mr. Dvorak, buy that bag of rice. But don't try to deride someone else's way of making a difference.