Digital divide smackdown: Barrett vs. Negroponte

ABRICE COFFRINI/AFP Last month at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, the hottest tech gadget in the room wasn’t Steve Jobs’ iPhone. It was Nicholas Negroponte’s $100 laptop. Everyone from Michael Dell to Vint Cerf was seen playing with the small green and white computer that Negroponte, the former head of MIT’s Media Lab, wants to distribute ...

602092_070228_davos_02.jpg
602092_070228_davos_02.jpg

ABRICE COFFRINI/AFP

Last month at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, the hottest tech gadget in the room wasn't Steve Jobs' iPhone. It was Nicholas Negroponte's $100 laptop. Everyone from Michael Dell to Vint Cerf was seen playing with the small green and white computer that Negroponte, the former head of MIT's Media Lab, wants to distribute to poor kids in the developing world. Negroponte, who has developed a cult of personality nearly as powerful as that of his bargain basement laptop, has a simple theory. Get kids "making music and playing and communicating," he says, and development will follow.

Simple, yes. But also controversial. A point that came to a head at a Davos session on bridging the digital divide, where Negroponte found himself in a heated row with Intel Chairman Craig Barrett. Intel has developed an inexpensive laptop of its own. And Negroponte has charged that Barrett, who also happens to be the United Nations' point man on this issue, "has to look at this as a market, and I look at this as a mission."

ABRICE COFFRINI/AFP

Last month at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, the hottest tech gadget in the room wasn’t Steve Jobs’ iPhone. It was Nicholas Negroponte’s $100 laptop. Everyone from Michael Dell to Vint Cerf was seen playing with the small green and white computer that Negroponte, the former head of MIT’s Media Lab, wants to distribute to poor kids in the developing world. Negroponte, who has developed a cult of personality nearly as powerful as that of his bargain basement laptop, has a simple theory. Get kids “making music and playing and communicating,” he says, and development will follow.

Simple, yes. But also controversial. A point that came to a head at a Davos session on bridging the digital divide, where Negroponte found himself in a heated row with Intel Chairman Craig Barrett. Intel has developed an inexpensive laptop of its own. And Negroponte has charged that Barrett, who also happens to be the United Nations’ point man on this issue, “has to look at this as a market, and I look at this as a mission.”

Now, in an interview with FP released today, Barrett is firing back:

[I]f you listen to Nick [Negroponte] and the constructionist approach to life, they take the attitude that most teachers in the emerging economies have a fourth- or sixth-grade education, that they’re only competent to lead students in song and dance. And if you give kids computers, they will set up their own communities, their own content; they’ll learn collectively. That is what drives Negroponte and the One Laptop per Child approach. That is not the unanimous position of educators around the world. It has not been the position of companies like Microsoft, Intel, and Cisco, who recognize that technology is just a tool….

Check it out.

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