On the 1st Day of Christmas I got a . . . Development XO Laptop

Posted in The Gnovis Blog

So if curiosity killed the cat, but on Christmas a non-Catholic CCTer cared, could he contribute to a critical communication, cultural, and computational cause…yes?!?

Well, now that I’ve made you tongue tied, confused, and maybe a little light-headed, I’d like to explain what that opening line meant (besides that the holiday break has left me with too much time on my hands.)

My New Toy aka XO Laptop

As I’ve brought up in most of my classes and through conversations at coffeehouses (I promise I won’t do any more alliteration with c’s), I am a huge advocate for the work of Nicholas Negroponte’s One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) program. OLPC’s XO laptop, also known as the $100 development laptop, began mass production in November 2007. As part of the roll-out strategy to the potential two-billion children in the developing world who may benefit from getting access to the XO, OLPC launched a unique promotion on November 12. The "Give One, Get One" campaign was originally only available for a couple of weeks, but due to its success and high demand, they extended the deadline until December 31.

Get One Give One Website

As soon as I heard of this promotion I went online and made my donation to "give one" to "get one." A few weeks later, Santa slid down my chimney, delivered my favorite new toy under my Christmas tree, and once I woke from my slumber I ran downstairs (past the empty glass of milk and plate full of cookie crumbs) wearing my Thunder Cats pajamas (with footsies) and drinking hot apple cider to open my present and begin playing with my new toy (note — it was not a Nintendo Wii). Actually, since I already divulged that I’m not Catholic, a FedEx delivery guy dropped it off at my apartment’s mail room and I opened it sometime around Hanukkah while eating take-out from Wisemiller’s Deli on 36th Street and watching a re-run of The Colbert Report.

Curiosity had killed the cat, though, and I couldn’t resist. My thirst and intrigue into this unprecedented, non-profit driven educational initiative to offer children agency to "learn how to learn in the 21st Century" had to be quenched. And although I am a poor college student, I did want to do my little part to allow a student in Afghanistan, Cambodia, Haiti, Mongolia, or Rwanda — countries designated per the promotion — the same luxuries that I have become technologically somnambulistic to in the United States, such as access to the Internet and the ability to communicate and collaborate in online networks with friends, peers, classmates, and co-workers.

After giving myself a couple weeks to familiarize myself with the XO, I wanted to share some of my feedback with gnovis readers. First, I am definitely as big if not a bigger fan of the program today than I was before I received my own laptop. My initial impressions actually weren’t that positive. I was surprised by how small the screen and keys were; and I was concerned that the web browser didn’t support Flash and some websites using DHTML. Rummages of Network Neutrality with two-parallel Internets popped into my head and I quivered. Once I regained my composure, I also had to get past the hurdle of adopting a Linux based operating system as I’ve been a life-long PC/Windows user who dabbles with MACs for some creative projects at work.

But then I realized… oh yeah, these things are meant for kids — with small hands — as basic tools for education, not for twenty-something YouTube watching graduate students at Georgetown University who have already been pigeon-holed into a particular computer user experience expectation.

These children will be introduced to computer technology through the XO, and its simple Graphic User Interface (GUI) instead of a "Start Menu," "Ribbon," or whatever What-cha-ma-call-it Microsoft is calling it these days. This is actually an ideal format for adoption as the children can inference what the programs do by their symbol in the menu. And because of its miniature size, it’s also light-weight and easily portable for a child of any age to carry to school, potentially located in a distant village. It is also highly durable as it’s Wi-Fi antennas protect the three USB ports and two microphone/headset jacks on the sides when the XO is closed. And when it’s closed, it mimics a briefcase.

XO Laptop

I sought to further familiarize myself with the built-in software — which includes everything from a word processor, scientific calculator, an artistic paint program, games, a video conferencing suite, built in access to meshed networks with other XO users for collaboration only one-click away from the start-up screen, and analytical diagnostic tools to measure computer performance, just to name a few — And I began to think of what power this little toy has, and what it can mean to the Afghan child who receives it in December or January because of my donation.

To him/her, it is not a toy but a gateway to his/her future. With little assistance, any child or group of children with a passion for learning can figure out how to use the basics of this tool with little oversight. But most importantly, as they grow older and become more experienced and educated, they can develop greater appreciation for the tool’s more sophisticated features, such as the analytical diagnostics and the options to let them write their own code. And the host country can provide XOs as an incentive for children to stay in school until they reach a certain point in their studies and age of maturity to care for the investment (note – oh how I love to bring free market economics into everything I do, say, and think).

Since the holidays are a time for giving, I wrote this post in this silly Christmas theme, and I encourage you to also "give one" to "get one," or donate to the cause.

CCT Students: feel free to contact me (Jason Langsner, 2nd year) at jel49@georgetown.edu , and you can borrow my XO laptop — if you may have too much time on you hands or you’re just curious. Again, I’ll leave your motives up to someone else’s interpretation. But what is not open to interpretation is that Negroponte and the OLPC will make a significant contribution to improving the quality of life for many children that are given this gift this holiday season.