Sebastian Silva is a bit worried. Three hundred thousand XO units will arrive in Peru by August, the largest deployment in the world by far. (Uruguay started this past December and will reach one hundred thousand laptops this year.) As a volunteer on the OLPC support team, Sebastian wants to make sure the children, teachers, and technical trainers are ready.
Sebastian sees the promise of computing as in social terms. With XO, every person becomes a TV broadcaster–and XO is even more empowering, because TV broadcasts can’t be chopped up and digitally altered. Sebastian says he learned Logo before he learned to read and write, and its mastery gave him a learning attitude that he’s preserved his whole life. He wants children not just to make movies and write papers, but to appreciate the drastically open nature of the systems they’re given.
“If OLPC succeeds, there will someday be more OLPC-like systems in the world than traditional PCs,” he says. “The Internet could very well be transformed by the behavior of people using the OLPC systems.”
He knows, as so many other observers have pointed out, that the physical distribution of laptops will not be effective without a receptive environment. One pressing need is Internet Points of Presence, which are lacking in most of the 70 locations that will receive their laptops over the next couple weeks.
But even more important (because XO users can accomplish a lot with local mesh networks, even if they are cut off from the Internet) are technical support and sources of ideas for children and teachers. Sebastian has just organized his first 61 volunteer trainers as part of a recently formed volunteer group called FuenteLibre (the web site is in Spanish).
Few computing projects cry out so much for an open, grassroots-driven strategy for deployment, but the government ministries that procured the XO systems and arranged for their disbursement have operated in a traditional, top-down fashion. There have been complaints about that in the media and the Peruvian blogosphere. Sebastian himself is talking to ministers, and they’re making progress in getting more transparent.
If XO owners and their parents do go online for guidance, Sebastian wants them to see something more inspiring to them than English-language developer documentation. He’d like the children and teachers to put up ideas themselves, such as the project in one Nigerian community where the children created a dictionary of their tribe’s dialect.
Can volunteers who put up documentation overcome cultural differences with those reading it? “Let’s just see what happens,” he says. “When you communicate with people of other cultures and income levels, you find out they are people like you.” Perhaps that encapulates the “social interaction revolution” that Sebastian and his fellow trainers hope to see with OLPC. The first meeting of the volunteers is this coming Saturday.