19 January 2009

When everyone zigs, Cory Doctorow zags

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Just when everyone is writing on how mobile phones are bringing about huge changes in emerging markets, Cory Doctorow publishes a very nice and thought provoking article in the Guardian entitled “Laptops, not mobile phones, are the means to liberate the developing world“.

“Mobile phones are necessarily an interim step. Adding software to most mobile phones is difficult or impossible without the permission of a central carrier, which makes life very hard for local technologists who have a very particular, local itch that needs scratching (and forget about collectively improving the solutions that do get approved – when was the last time you heard of someone downloading an app for her phone, improving it, and republishing it?). Mobile phone use is always metered, limiting their use and exacting a toll on people who can least afford to pay it. Worst of all, the centralised nature of mobile networks means that in times of extremis, governments and natural disasters will wreak havoc on our systems, just as we need them most.

By contrast, an open laptop with mesh networking is designed to be locally customised, to have its lessons broadcast to others who can use them, and to avoid centralised control and vulnerability to bad weather and bad governments. It is designed to be nearly free from operating costs, so that once the initial investment is made, all subsequent use is free, encouraging experimentation and play, from which all manner of innovations may spring.”

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