As I noted in my second blog, George Connick, the founder of the Educational Network of Maine, advocated distance learning in various locales throughout the state as a supposedly adequate substitute for traditional face-to-face learning. But he
revealed his personal biases when he conceded that, for his own children, he’d have wanted them to have had traditional classroom and residence hall experiences had there been online options when they were in college. I suspect that the UMaine
System Board of Trustees of that time, given those same choices if they had had children of college age, would have agreed with their hero Connick that their offspring deserved better. It doesn’t take a Marxist to see the class contradictions here.
But what of Nicholas Negroponte, the world-famous author of Being Digital (1995) and MIT visionary? For years now he has been promoting the production of a one-hundred-dollar laptop for children that would supposedly transform the lives of and
educate millions of impoverished souls. Genuinely committed to this non-profit crusade, called “One-Laptop per Child,” Negroponte has raised huge sums of money but has been defeated, for now, by the impossibility of meeting that low cost per
computer. Unexpectedly high expenses for the original laptop resulted from too many moving parts; too many features needed to “withstand glaring sun, blowing sand, and spotty access to electricity” (as reported in the May 28, 2010, Boston Globe);
and customized keyboards for countries not using the Latin alphabet.
Negroponte has consequently dropped the laptop in favor of a “tablet design” that, he claims, will not cost over one hundred dollars. So much for his earlier predictions.
No less important, the fate of his original laptop shows the often fatal flaw in technological determinism: the naive, pseudo-historical belief that technology transforms the world and always has, albeit today allegedly quicker and more pervasive
than ever before. Serious scholars of technology now that pre-existing cultural values, economic systems, and social structures play crucial roles in the success or failure of most technological crusades.
I welcome your reactions. Thanks.