one iPad per child?

I dashed into work this Wednesday to hear Nicholas Negroponte, the visionary who combined technology and philanthropy to create One Laptop Per Child.

One Laptop Per Child, now in its fifth year, has distributed more than 2 million laptops to children around the world, indirectly lowering the price of new technology for everyone.

MITX (MIT’s Technology Exchange) and Digitas hosted the oddly-named “fireside chat” (the lawyer next to me leaned over and whispered that the event used to be at night in front of a fireplace at the Harvard Club).

Nicholas Negroponte (aharonrothschild.com)

Some random Negroponte (and Negroponte-inspired) musings:

All things Apple will rule the planet. Negroponte started things off by saying everyone needs to get an iPad…now.  Thanks to technology and hand-held devices, legions of us no longer mind waiting in line; instead of fuming we’re reading (and hopefully getting smarter).

SUVs suck. Socialism, not so much. Two things Negroponte said that made me cheer: it’s time for America to do two things, quickly:

1) End the era of giant SUVs. Besides being hideously fugly, SUVs, with their gas guzzling ways, increase our dependency on crazy Middle Eastern dictatorships. We’ve bailed out Detroit’s Big 3. Tunisia has stirred the scent of the Jasmine Revolution throughout the Arab world. These are two good steps in the right direction. Let’s try to instill the same sense of urgency and innovation so many of us feel into the auto industry, and demand they design fuel-efficient cars that are sexy and fun to drive. Or just sexy!

2) Get over our weird hang-up about socialism being “bad.”

If you’ve lived or have spent any time in Europe, you’ll probably agree that life over there can be quite pleasant. Perfect utopia? No. Would I trade in my U.S. citizenship? Hell no. But getting six weeks vacation is pretty nice, as is the 2 hr 15 min high-speed train from London to Paris. So are the sensible gun control laws. There are plenty of great European ideas that we could take and adapt for our culture—and vice versa.

Design school is the new (nicer) b-school: Just like 50 is the new 40, and brunette is the new blonde, it looks like design school is getting ready to kick some arrogant b-school ass, and not a moment too soon. “I just yawn when anyone tells me they’re in business school…b-school is a thing of the past,” Negroponte said. He says businesses with brains are depending more on design to craft and influence their competitive strategy—Creatives (with or without MBAs) take heart!

What’s next? Negroponte gave MITX a pretty big scoop: plans are underway to distribute connected laptops to children who have never been to school. Without a teacher or the daily structure that school provides, could children learn to read? Can children teach themselves? If you connect children to the Internet, and give them access to unlimited information, what will they do with it? Where will they go?

“They’ll just play video games,” said my uncharacteristically cynical man when I told him about the idea. Negroponte is more optimistic. “There are at least 70 million children around the world who are unschooled, which means they’re not going to the first grade,” he said. “The actual number is probably more like 120 million. If we give each kid a connected laptop, can they learn to read on their own?”

As far as we know, the reading brain, unlike the walking and talking brain, is “unnatural” — reading must be taught, and therefore is not innate. But is there something in between—a learning process that occurs, a synapse that sparks, that we don’t yet know about? Negroponte’s newest laptop experiment aims to find out.

“It all starts with reading,” he said. “If you can read, that would be such a leg up for these children. If we connect them, and give them that opportunity and see what happens…”

An interesting and worthwhile idea, indeed.

learning--and having fun--in Brazil (one.laptop.org)

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