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10:36AM

One Kindle per child

Interesting WSJ piece on how aid projects are working to spread Kindles around Africa much in the same manner as the recent "one laptop per child."  Many of the same problems, many of the same good intentions, but a number of deltas worth mentioning.

The laptop per kid thing always struck me as overkill amidst a cellphone revolution.  The problem I still have with cellphones is one of their great tricks: you can be illiterate and use one quite well - thus the cellphone's reputation (deserved) as the greatest economic development tool of all time.  If you could read, my God the things you could suddenly do!  And if you couldn't, my God the things you could suddenly do anyway!

But just as a lot of people worry about the poor literacy of young people in developed societies - thanks to all these devices, I worried about the same in developing.  The writing skills of Millennials is - by generational standards - simply awful.  That's why I encourage so much reading and - more importantly - writing among my kids (all of which I personally edit whenever they give me the chance, so I can impart the same basic lessons my sister Cathie gave to me when she edited all my papers in college before I turned them in).  Good writing is becoming a lost art, and good writing starts with good reading of good writers - followed by application.

That's why this article caught my eye.  I still learn a lot about writing all the time - and always will, because I still read a lot (more and more fiction).  My fear with one-laptop was that we'd short-circuit a lot of useful learning, but with Kindles, which give you access to endless books and can go for a week on a good charge, you're filling young people's time and space with material that will ultimately advance them by developing their minds. 

Plus, as the article points out, with built-in Internet, Kindles are basically big mobiles, and everyone knows where those technologies can take people in otherwise "hostile infrastructure" environments.

Having just turned 50 and thinking about what I want to do with the next five-decade tranche, I do find myself drawn to efforts that will have catalytic impact in developing/emerging economies.  I have spent a great deal of my life fretting over the have/have-not thing, which is why - as a young man - I fell in love with globalization and its capacity to fuel the "Great Convergence" that progressively heals the Great Divergence of 1800-2000 (in income globally).

No, I don't see myself in aid efforts per se (although I have grand hopes for a philanthropic career at some point), but rather in the sort of infrastructure breakthroughs (still in that Development-in-a-Box mode) that are supremely catalytic.  There's just so much to work with right now, what with all the South-South transactions taking off.

I honestly cannot understand anyone pining for a past age.  We live in the best of worlds any human has yet enjoyed.  The problems we face are the best we've ever had, and there are so many good tracks of human progress to pursue.

I feel lucky to be 50 right now - at this point in time.

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Reader Comments (5)

Aid does not work, and let me repeat it for emphasis "aid does not work".

Africa is littered with several "brilliant aid driven ideas" that have failed. This list includes solar devices, energy saving stoves, "specially improved conveniences" etc.

The penetration of mobile telephony in Africa had absolutely nothing to do with aid, and this fact should be taken extremely seriously.

The problem is that the most ardent practitioners of aid have zero business experience and they have practically no interest in seeking out practical business advice from either local businesses or from multi-national corporations.

Read this McKinsey report about private healthcare in Africa: http://www.mckinseyquarterly.com/How_private_health_care_can_help_Africa_2113

June 23, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMaduka

Am also trying to read more fiction? Have you read Sense of An Ending by Julian Barnes? Has much to say about the selectivity of memory.

June 23, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterPatrick O'Connor

We have 5 kindles, 1st & 2nd gen and 3 Fires. My kids read at a ferocious pace and its not too expensive. Especially all the free classics, from Edger Rice Burroughs to whatever... Even better the family is working on two books to get electronically published on Kindle etc.. The project of researching, setting the story path, writing the book and editing it by more than one person is really a great learning process. Wonderful tools.

June 24, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRob

My Dad used to put me on the handle bars and peddle from our apartment up to the wonderful Blackstone Library in Chicago's Hyde Park neighborhood. That place was like a temple to me. I couldn't believe that there were all those books to read. It was dark and very quiet inside. They had some stuffed birds and small animals in glass cases. They fascinated me, the city boy.

Those books got me through the long summer evenings. Jules Verne, Robert Luis Stevenson and later Asimov and Heinlein.

That is a great photo showing those kids with electronic "books". Let their minds soar over the hills and valleys of their homelands.

June 24, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterTed O'Connor

Friends keep telling me to read fictional novels. Been in a history rut for the past decade, and I'm probably missing out on some great works.

Also, spot on about the writing comment. I don't consider myself a great writer, but I get an ego boost whenever I surf the internet. Used to be only TV cramping your brain power. Now it's cell phones, TV, advertisement, and more!

June 25, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua Sterns

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