In December, I wished that the One Laptop Per Child project would sell the laptops to us at wildly inflated prices to subsidize laptops for children elsewhere. I suggested $500. Now the BBC reports that they are considering selling us two laptops with one going to the developing world — a less wildly inflated price. Count me in.
I love the One Laptop per Child project (David Weinberger takes one for a spin here) and think the criticism of it motivated by PC nitwittery (‘you should solve every other problem the poor have before giving them a laptop’) or competitive greed (‘how dare you make an inexpensive machine with inexpensive software?’) is ridiculous, even offensive.
My only complaint about the laptop crusade is that they won’t sell them to us rich people. I think they should — at wildly inflated prices. Sell me a $100 laptop for $500 and thus I’ll buy laptops for four children somewhere in the world. That beats a PBS pledge gift.
And let my school district, which is rich, buy them for $300 each, giving each child here a machine to use in school — which they don’t have now — and thus subsidizing laptops for schools that could not afford them. The Robin Hood gambit. I’ll bet the investment my school makes now in classroom machines and laptop carts is equivalent. And there are fringe benefits: The school could save on textbooks by putting curriculum on the network. The students could all now work in collaborative tools — class wikis. The town gets the start of a mesh network. And the students get tools they should have. My son is lugging an 8-pound Dell around to class (we don’t want to bang up the more precious, working Mac) so he can take notes and the teachers love that he does; they’d like to see every student taking good notes and being connected. At CUNY, we got every student a Mac laptop and I can tell you it’s great working without technology barriers to learning.
This also changes the competitive landscape for the PC business. Machines will get cheaper and use more open software to do so, which will put them in more hands.
Most important, this changes the economics of scale for the laptop crusade, too. The more they can make, the cheaper they will be to make (they actually cost about $150 each now). Demand is a good thing.
To start, I’d take 100 of these great machines and sell them on eBay as a benefit. I have no doubt that early adopters would stampede to get their hands on the things and help spread the technology they adore to the world. The bidding starts at $1,000. How’s that for a markup?