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Give One to Get One

by Clint Cooper

Chattanooga Times Free Press

January 15th, 2008

 
 

Susan Field said with friends in Papua New Guinea, she knows the difficulty of communication in Third World countries.

So when the 13-year-old Chattanooga girl saw an article last fall on a project that would award a laptop computer to a child in a developing country if another was purchased, she was interested.

 

"I told my father," said Susan, "and our whole family wanted to be a part of it.".

 

The One Laptop per Child project (www.laptopgiving.org), launched in 2005, focuses on designing, manufacturing and distributing laptops to children in lesser-developed countries. The mission of the nonprofit organization is to ensure that all school-age children in such countries are able to "engage effectively with their own personal laptop, networked to the world, so that they, their families and their communities can openly learn and learn about learning."

 

The Give One Get One promotion that Susan saw while posting technology news to the Fields’ family business (SurfN Development [now the Chattanooga Software Center]) Web site allowed customers to buy two of the XO laptops for $399.

 

A recent news report said the promotion brought in about 25,000 customers. As of Dec. 31, 2007, the promotion is no longer available

Jackie Lustig, a spokeswoman for One Laptop per Child, said the organization could not disclose how many of the computers were sold in individual states and whether any others had been sold in Chattanooga.

 

"(The project) is outside the box," said Alan Field, Susan’s father and the president of SurfN Development [the Chattanooga Software Center], a software development company that helps clients with business management, accounting and Internet systems. "We felt like it would enlighten and connect people in Third World countries."

 

He said project officials have received unwarranted criticism from people who said it was more important for children in developing countries to have chairs than laptops.

 

"We laughed at chairs," Mr. Field said. "You don’t need a chair to be creative and learn. It’s silly to say a chair is more important."

A column earlier this month in Economist.com also was critical.

 

While giving the company kudos for its vision, it said the implementation of its technology was "terrible," and its go-to-market execution was "imperfect."

 

"Ultimately the OLPC initiative will be remembered less for what is produced than the products it spawned," Economist.com noted. "The initiative is like running the four-minute mile: No one could do it. Then many people did."

 

But once the Fields received the laptop they ordered just before Christmas, they were delighted with it's operation. "It does a lot more than we thought at first," Susan said. She said she was aware the laptop had a camera and microphone for video and still pictures, but she was unaware it could store them.

 

"it (also) has its own programming," Susan said. "I've been learning its programming language. It's neat how you can program it (with an image) and move it around. You can actually make your own game." Mr. Field said they have also discovered the computer can easily detect other wireless networks and map them out.

 

"It looks for other XO's (or other wireless devices) and daisy-chains with them to find the Internet," he said. "In a rural area, theoretically," he said, such a method would be ideal.

 

Mr. Field said the laptop has "good" software and is "geared for children," with cartoonish pictures as icons.

 

He said when the computer arrived, the family's 6-year-old daughter was allowed to use it first. He said she opened it and easily found her way around the device

Overall, Mr. Field said, One Laptop per Child is a good idea and a good cause.

 

"Americans and people in the technology community like Chattanooga should participate in this," he said. "It reaches through the border and into the back hills, whether government agrees with it or not. From a mission standpoint, it's connecting to communicate. It really empowers the people.

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