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.