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"You have changed my world."

[Link to commercial video.]
I can't find an embed button.


Oh but does that commercial send me into fits of uncontrollable and irrational hope and giddiness and tearing and other post-estrogen activities.

It's just a computer.

But then, what have I learned on my computer? Why, almost everything.

This phenomenal little machine receives wireless internet that is capable of running a "mesh" network. There's a link on the features page that explains how it works, and it appears that if any one XO has a signal, any number of other XOs within a given radius can bounce off it to get the signal. Don't quote me on it--there are obvious limits to my tech literacy. Hey, I found a better explanation.

It's hardy at very low and very high altitudes, at extreme temperatures, in dust and rain and wind. It's built without toxic or hazardous parts and can withstand tons of abuse. It also uses about a tenth of the power of a regular laptop. Translated, if it has a similar battery to my Toshiba laptop (a 2006 Satellite M55), it would run for 20 hours without needing a charge instead of the measly two I get from mine. They list the battery specs, and I don't understand them enough to explain. But, they're designed to work in conditions where the child may not have access to steady current. They can also be recharged by a variety of sources, including a car battery. That's a pretty super adaptation for people who don't have a lot of choice in their recharging stations.

There's a Flickr stream so you can see pictures of real children using real XO laptops.

There was another product I heard of a few years ago, the Bogolight. Both that flashlight and this laptop address similar concerns. The problem with so much of the world isn't potential but opportunity and tools. Even right here in our very own gold-paved American streets, we have whole segments of the population utterly trapped in a never-ending cycle of not enough to get by, not enough to sacrifice for a child's education, not enough to learn job skills, not enough to get out. The opportunities these and other children of poverty have are limited electricity and finite daylight, long distances to schools if they have one at all, often famine -- either real or imposed, often conflict -- either between warlords or druglords, a chance to grow up without parents, and a chance to contract any number of curable or incurable diseases. The tools these kids have are fear, desperation, and impressionable minds. The very things that make children such swift and avid learners lends them to abuse by those who would use them to violent and criminal ends.

The flashlight is a magical tool. It uses the sunlight, so often in abundance, to create access to increased learning hours. The explanation behind it is that, even if these children have access to schools, often they have to leave afterward and spend the rest of the daylight hours gathering firewood or working a plot of land or even begging for money or food. There is precious little daylight, as we in the rat race know, and they know it that much more. Batteries for traditional flashlights are expensive. Replacement bulbs are expensive and even unavailable. Kerosene is cheap to us, but it adds up and also presents a hazard. And, both of these options create hazardous wastes that pollute land and water already challenged with conflict and famine and ill-use. Because the laptop is backlit (and also visible in direct sunlight), it addresses that problem.

Perhaps the best thing about this laptop is the visual design, that is, the packaging. It's not easily confused with other computers, and, as such, it's conspicuous in a way that may prevent or at least reduce the threat of theft and trafficking. No one will be confused, as they say on the site, as to who this laptop was intended for and to whom it belongs. There are clearly unscrupulous people, as the situations in many of the target countries bespeak, but this isn't a cargo that's easily hidden. And that is a fundamental need, that this product be conspicuous enough to be left alone.

But let's talk about the purpose. What good is this really? Ok so they'll learn to use a computer. Is that really a marketable skill in these countries? Maybe not. But this laptop and the software it holds are more than just user-knowledge. They offer creative development tools that give these children an opportunity to develop self-expression. In places where such things can be glorious luxuries, the opportunity to begin to think abstractly from the immediate is a powerful gift. These laptops also give access to the whole world. The internet is a dangerous place. It has all kinds of information, all kinds of opinions, all kinds of images and words and people. To children who know hunger and want and war, access to the rest of the world and to endless learning opportunities is beyond priceless. On the internet, I can learn Java, I can be exposed to particle physics, evolutionary biology, free downloadable classic texts, economic theory, international development training, business management lessons, skills and trades knowledge... the possibilities are literally endless. These children will have an increased chance to pursue learning which could become the background they need for opportunity and merit scholarships to secondary and post-secondary education. These children will become the leaders of tomorrow instead of statistics you hear about on the starving children infomercials and the next Poverty-sploitation flick with Nick Cage. That sounds dramatic, but this is the reality we face.

The website says there are already 568,135 that have been donated in 21 countries and Oceania.

Will you donate the next one?

Child's XO Laptop

BOGO SunNight Solar Task Light

There are, by the by, other products available if you purchase the buy-one-give-one option. As far as I can tell, these are consumer items intended for you to buy yourself. They are, generally, plug-and-play adaptable and will work with the XO or non-XO computers. I don't know whether they are made by the nonprofit XO company or whether they fund the program.

USB 2.0 Lan Adapter for the OLPC XO Laptop in XO Green
XO Thin Spin 2 Gig USB Flash Drive for the OLPC XO Laptop
USB Wireless Optical Mouse for the OLPC XO Laptop
XO Flex Light for the OLPC XO Laptop

Links to Amazon removed.