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.

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