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Bruce Sterling On OLPC, Mobile Phones

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I have been skeptical about both OLPC and the netbooks (which I think are nothing but really really cheap laptops) because I believe that phones — smart or not — are the present and future of technology. That reality is brought into sharp focus every single time I visit India, which now has close to 400 million mobile connections. China, Brazil, Russia… mobile phone sales, despite the slump, are not going to slump. Bruce Sterling, in his speech at Webstock 09 in New Zealand made this point rather bluntly.

All the planet’s poor kids had to have desktop machines. With fiber optic. Sure! You go to Bombay, Shanghai, Lagos even, you’re like “hey kid, how about this OLPC so you can level the playing field with the South Bronx and East Los Angeles?” And he’s like “Do I have to? I’ve already got three Nokias.” The teacher is slapping the cellphone out of his hand because he’s acing the tests by sneaking in SMS traffic. “Half the planet has never made a phone call.” Boy, that’s a shame — especially when pirates in Somalia are making satellite calls off stolen supertankers. The poorest people in the world love cellphones. They’re spreading so fast they make PCs look like turtles.

Actually you should read Bruce’s post over on, because it makes the entire Web 2.0 ecosystem look into a trick mirror — with amusing results. (Photo via Flickr by Dipankar Dutta)

18 Responses to “Bruce Sterling On OLPC, Mobile Phones”

  1. Jim Forster

    How many people would choose to a) read this article on a phone, b) make a comment on a phone, c) write a blog such as this on a phone. My guess is that the among readers of this blog the answer to all three is close to zero.

    Notwithstanding, phones are the preferred device for many things. Especially if you can only afford a phone.

    — Jim

  2. vardaan21

    Is there any connection b/w Mobile phones and Computing devices such as netbooks or whatever?? atleast I dont understand …lets put the future technology away than both of these technologies are way different to each other and coming to poor people do they really need computing devices (a joke), when they hardly seen the school why they prefer the later ones.

  3. Netbooks *are* “nothing but really really cheap laptops”. That’s what’s so great about them. I much prefer these little laptops costing $300 instead of >$1K like they used to. :)

    With the ever-increasing transistor density of microprocessors and the recent improvements in power consumption, phones probably are destined to be the standard unit of personal computing.

    • @simmons

      There is absolutely nothing in these being really cheap laptops. Too bad they are going to destroy the PC industry margins further. Still it is all good for the consumer. It is just same old wine in really small bottle :-)

  4. Netbook Fan

    I have to say I was skeptical at first, but now I’m a fan of the netbooks. Particularly for travel, it’s great to be able to toss a very lightweight netbook in the travel bag and not be lugging around a standard laptop. Very handy at conferences and meetings where you want to take notes for an extended period of time and there is no table to place a laptop on.

    The netbook definitely has a future, especially as battery life goes up and the graphics get a bit better in future models.

    • @Netbook Fan

      I am not surprised that you are loving netbooks – you are accustomed to using laptops and now finally the laptop is portable and more usable for folks who are laptop addicts. I think for folks who are going straight to mobiles, netbooks seems like a step back.

  5. I will agree to this. I have seen people selling little stuff and talking on phone to ask rates from their family members who are selling other things at other places in the same market.

    Sometimes, they surprise you by bringing out a new set that you have not seen even. This sometimes is so hilarious and astonishing as how and when they get time to buy those sets.

    Cell phones in India is like a match-box…even if you are non-smoker, you surely have these cells.