“disconnected youth”

Hat tip to Michael Oman-Reagan who brought this to my attention. Apparently, the current version of H.R.1, the stimulus bill being debated in the U.S. Senate, includes incentives for hiring “disconnected youth” which the bill defines as:

“(ii) DISCONNECTED YOUTH.–The term `disconnected youth’ means any
individual who is certified by the designated local agency–

“(I) as having attained age 16 but not age 25 on the hiring date,

“(II) as not regularly attending any secondary, technical, or
post-secondary school during the 6-month period preceding the hiring

“(III) as not regularly employed during such 6-month period, and

“(IV) as not readily employable by reason of lacking a sufficient
number of basic skills.”.

Like many of you, when I first heard “disconnected youth” I assumed it was a reference to the digital divide and its effects on youth. Not so much. According to this bill, “connecting” youth simply means softening them up for corporate circulation.

outtake: public wi-fi & nola

The following is an outtake from an article Cindi Katz and I have been writing on the relationship between U.S. children and young people and their technological environments in the post-9/11 security state. Once/if the final article is published, I’ll post a link to it here. In the meantime, consider this a “teaser.”

These shifts, and the struggles over them, remind us of Seymour Papert’s (1993, p5) caution that, “there is a world of difference between what computers can do and what society will choose to do with them.” In the post-9/11 security state, we can look to that other contemporary site of homeland (in)security, New Orleans, for an example of how state and corporate security concerns shape the difference between what a particular technology can do and the purposes to which it is put. When Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, the city’s communicative infrastructure was badly damaged except for a wireless mesh-network, similar to one the FOSS XO can generate.  The network covered the downtown business district and the French Quarter. This network, originally implemented to support surveillance cameras in the area, was “hacked” by emergency personnel in the wake of the hurricane and later converted by the city into a free public Wi-Fi service. Although Louisiana state laws ban the free distribution of broadband services with municipal monies, New Orleans was able to circumvent this ban because of its declared state of emergency. Now that the state of emergency has been lifted, BellSouth has challenged the legality of the public Wi-Fi. While the use of publicly funded Wi-Fi is sanctioned for state surveillance, free public access Wi-Fi is seen as a threat to corporate profit and thus curbed.  Clearly choices are being made—choices that go against the democratic possibilities that Papert and his colleagues envisioned when the Internet and personal computing were in their infancy.

NOTE This “outtake” and its relation to the larger paper, from which it was eventually cut, were inspired by two earlier posts: Connectile Dysfunction (CD) and mesh-networking.

goodbye learning, hello workforce training

Some sad news regarding the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) project:

Microsoft has joined forces with the developers of the “$100 laptop” to make Windows available on the machines.

According to Wired, Microsoft has had their sights on emerging markets in developing countries for a while now and have viewed low-cost children’s laptops as ideal vehicles for distribution. Until recently OLPC has resisted integrating Windows into their XO Children’s Machine, insisting that free and open-source software was central to their constructionist learning philosophy and necessary to give “children the opportunity to use their laptops on their own terms” (for more background see here, here and here). Sugar, the Linux based operating system designed for the XO Children’s Machine, has been described by OLPC as the “core” of their laptop’s interface and to the sharing and learning affordances of the machine.

olpc's blue screen of death

Yet, according to OLPC, it now appears that Windows XP will be bundled with the XO. This decision has apparently been motivated by countries, such as Egypt and Columbia, demanding that the computers carry Windows before they agree to buy in to the program. Their reasoning seems to be that they aren’t interested in machines for learning and sharing, they want machines that will train a generation of children for a future tech-based workforce. Not learning how to think — learning how to USE Excel, PowerPoint, Word, etc…

Nicholas Negroponte (founder and chairman of OLPC) claims that a dual-boot option, similar to Apple’s, which allows the child to choose between Windows and Sugar is in the works — yet Ivan Krstić, the former top security architect for OLPC argues otherwise:

The whole “we’re investing into Sugar, it’ll just run on Windows” gambit is sheer nonsense. Nicholas knows quite well that Sugar won’t magically become better simply by virtue of running on Windows rather than Linux. In reality, Nicholas wants to ship plain XP desktops. He’s told me so. That he might possibly fund a Sugar effort to the side and pay lip service to the notion of its “availability” as an option to purchasing countries is at best a tepid effort to avert a PR disaster.

Krstić goes on to write that this realization that learning was never part of the OLPC mission (i.e. the mission is about laptop distribution) is precisely what lead him to resign from the project. Krstić concludes his post, in part, by stating:

OLPC can’t claim to be preoccupied with learning and not with training children to be office computer drones, while at the same time being coerced by hollow office drone rhetoric to deploy the computers with office drone software.

Although disagreeing with a number of key points made in a recent post by Richard Stallman (founder of the free software movement), Krstić and Stallman appear to agree on what is at stake here. As Stallman puts it, this is about “whether the XO is an influence for freedom or an influence for subjection.” Indeed, close attention to the built pedagogy of the XO Children’s Machine is needed. As the XO shifts from an entirely free and open-source machine (with the exception of a proprietary firmware program for wifi access) designed for the promotion of open learning and sharing in the social and structural environments of developing countries — to one that increasingly adopts proprietary software for the vocational training of a future workforce — the lessons being taught are of great importance. Lets be clear, its not a mistake that the mesh networking capability of the XO, which allows the computers to talk to one another and share data, is not currently supported by Windows XP. And I don’t expect that problem will be “fixed” anytime soon. If it is ever “fixed,” the sharing component will be tightly controlled and heavily regulated.

In a previous post about the XO, I praised its mesh networking capability as a way to generate autonomous communication networks which might help afford a new media space for citizen power. Of course, such autonomous digital communication poses a threat to intellectual property enforcement and thus a threat to Microsoft’s entire business model. If information and communication flows freely in developing countries (aka “new markets”) it makes it more difficult to start charging one day. Immersing children, early on, in proprietary environments where information circulation is tightly controlled and intellectual property rights are strictly enforced, helps to socialize a generation that will continue to play by the old rules rather than one that will challenge them by imagining new rules. In fact, “play” is exactly what is being co-opted here. Children’s play in technological environments (in this case, the XO) is being shaped to socially reproduce certain behaviors for future work in an informational economy. Of course children are not passive recipients, they are actors in this equation. What they do in these proprietary environments and how they may (or may not) reclaim play for creative and innovative purposes is worth watching.

Bloomberg on technology

From the Wired interview with Michael Bloomberg:

Wired: Kids sit on the steps of the Brooklyn library trying to get Wi-Fi. Why can’t we solve the problem that roughly half the people in this city don’t have broadband?

Bloomberg: We will. That’s what capitalism is all about. As there’s demand, the private sector will come and fill it in. I don’t believe that government is good at picking technology, particularly technology that is changing. By the time you get it done and go through democracy, it’s so outdated.

[emphasis added]


After reading David Pogue’s review of the XO – a $200 laptop created by One Laptop Per Child (O.L.P.C.) – and spending time on O.L.P.C.’s website, I’m absolutely fixated on the mesh-networking feature of this computer (check out the “mesh demo” here). While the XO is light, durable and energy efficient – all features that make the XO compatible with many 3-world environments – its mesh-networking capability appears to be the most revolutionary.

As Pogue writes:

The XO offers both regular wireless Internet connections and something called mesh networking, which means that all the laptops see each other, instantly, without any setup — even when there’s no Internet connection.

Even when there is no internet connection…. A while back I wrote about a chart in Wired Magazine outlining the price of broadband in various countries. At the bottom of the map was a question asking if the much promoted $100 laptop (now $200…) is really enough. Mesh-networking may not be ‘enough’ but giving people the ability to generate autonomous virtual networks or extend existing virtual networks appears a great start.

the xo

Following Katrina, a mesh network, originally constructed by New Orleans for surveillance purposes, was one of the few communicative structures that survived. In Myanmar, where the government has shut down its communicative infrastructure to prevent citizens from ‘leaking’ information about the atrocities being committed by the government, people – local people – have been generating autonomous networks to get information out of the country. Something like the XO – or any technology with mesh-networking capabilities, would only strengthen these autonomous networks and extend their reach. In Manuel Castells’ words, such technology would help them to “think local and act global.”

In sum – the XO has got me thinking that any discussions on public access to the Internet should include public access to mesh networking, or perhaps the right of the public to generate autonomous mesh networks. As government and commerce compete (and at times coordinate) to control the Internet, autonomous mesh networks could become the new media space for citizen power in the informational society.

works in more places

I just saw this new at&t ad directed by Wes Anderson. I find it interesting on two levels – One, at&t appears to be shifting their slogan from “fewest dropped calls” to “works in more places.” Apparently their strategy is no longer to be the least worst

Two, at&t — through their slogan and the theme of the ad — promotes the spatial connectivity their wireless service affords. The ad’s main character, white male college student, transitions through multiple spaces (home, college, Prague and Chicago) with the help of his cell phone. So as your social network geographically distributes post-high school, at&t can help you remain connected. What’s wrong with a little corporate connective tissue in your social network?

global broadband

While enjoying an always delicious cafe mocha at Oslo this morning, I came across the 15.09 issue of Wired Magazine. On page 60 they included a world map indicating the price of broadband for various countries. The following is a snap shot of some of the countries profiled:

  • South Korea – $.08 / 100 kps
  • The Netherlands – $.14 / 100 kps
  • United States – $.49 / 100 kps (.01% of the average monthly wage)
  • Nicaragua – $14.65 / 100 kps
  • Bolivia – $39.06 / 100 kps
  • Mozambique – $361.83 / 100 kps (1,400x the average monthly wage!!)
  • Saudia Arabia – $571.82 / 100 kps (58% of the average monthly wage!!)

At the bottom of the map is a question asking if the much promoted $100 laptop is really enough. The logic being that while we are now able to distribute computers cheaply to 3rd world countries, how can we get those computers online with such high costs for connectivity? Talk about Connectile Dysfunction!

Connectile Dysfunction (CD)

“You know the feeling” the empathic male voiceover announces, “you can’t take care of business the way others do.” You can’t, because you have what’s called “Connectile Dysfunction” or “CD” which the voiceover explains as “a condition caused by inadequate broadband coverage.” The denizens of New Orleans know this feeling all too well, that is to say they “can’t take care of business the way others do.” When Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, the city’s communicative infrastructure was badly damaged except for a wireless network covering the downtown business district and the French Quarter.

This wireless network, originally implemented to support surveillance cameras in the area, was quickly repurposed by emergency personnel in the wake of the hurricane and later converted by the city into a free public Wi-Fi service. BellSouth is now challenging the legality of this public cyberspace, a lifeline that the city intends to make part of its “indigenous infrastructure.” Thanks to powerful corporate interests, Louisiana state laws ban the free distribution of broadband services and while New Orleans was able to circumvent these laws because of its declared state of emergency that state of emergency has now been lifted. The denizens of New Orleans battle a bad bout of Connectile Dysfunction.“The cure” for CD, our empathic male voiceover informs us, is “Sprint Mobile Broadband” because “it works in twice the cities as Cingular’s Broadband Connect so you can be you again.” At $49.99 a month (not including the startup and hardware costs), this advertisement doesn’t appear to remedy the situation so New Orleans can be New Orleans again

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