Don't automatically hate the OLPC laptop

Opinion: Geeks bearing gifts are a good thing

OLPC notebook

I bought myself a One Laptop Per Child laptop for Christmas. Just in time, it seems, for Nicholas Negroponte's flagship to hit the rocks of the global economic slowdown.

Industry commentators are trampling over each other to point out that the idea of delivering laptops for under $100 to the third world was too dependent on economies of scale. And that snobby, elitist ideology alienated the first-world market that could have helped establish the product. And that the Sugar operating system is rubbish. And so on and so on.

Well, I'm with Nicholas on this one. The first world already has laptops and, while there are plenty of poor people living in tar-paper shacks in rural Alabama and North Devon, none of them are remotely as poor as people in the walk-three-miles-to-the-nearest-well parts of the world.

I have no idea what the XO laptop is for. Mine only arrived yesterday and I haven't had time for more than a quick poke around. It connects to my Wi-Fi network and I can use Gmail. I might end up actually using it for stuff or it might just be another of the (many) gadgets I have bought because they were cool at the time. But the XO is different from everything else I own, because the Give One, Get One system means that my laptop has a twin. And somewhere in a corrugated-iron schoolroom in war-torn Madeupistan, is a little girl or boy using a laptop that I paid for.

Sure, I could have just made a donation without getting a laptop myself. Or I could have paid for a water pump or adopted a cow or any of a number of other perfectly good ways to give to charity. But I didn't because I'm a geek and a romantic; the symmetry of getting a dinky little laptop for myself and a random peasant at the same time, appealed to me. This is no mean feat: I'm white, liberal, middle class and not a church-goer. Consequently, I'm not likely to give much to charity. Anything that reverses this trend is a good thing.

Even if it does have the keyboard of a Sinclair ZX Spectrum.