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One Laptop per Child: a Tool for Truly Public Media

Between now and November 26, the One Laptop per Child project will send one of their portable computers to a child in a developing country for each one purchased in the U.S. and Canada. This is the first time that the lime green laptops—which come with a bonus year of T-Mobile HotSpot access for those of us living in the world of Borders and Starbucks—are available to the general public.

Though they may look like toys, the laptops are built to withstand high heat, humidity, sand, and drops. Energy efficient (the units can be recharged by solar panel or a pull cord as well as AC) and customizable, they represent the best effort of a team of educators, programmers and philanthropists to provide children in the developing world with unprecedented access to communications and computing. The open-source interface, Sugar, is designed to demystify technology; users can "look under the hood" at the code of some of the laptop's programs.

With built-in cameras, tools for game creation, illustration, video and audio recording, music-making and programming, these are engines for participatory media-making. Sharing and collaboration are also emphasized; the laptops are designed to instanteously network with one another as well as connect to WiFi.

While education is the primary goal for the One Laptop per Child initiative, unprecedented public media projects are sure to follow once students, teachers and parents get their hands on the machines. A related wiki is tracking developments as the laptops begin to ship. To date, Uruguay is the first country to commit to the initiative, purchasing 100,000 of the laptops for children aged 6-12, with a promise to buy 300,000 more. The goal would be to supply every child in the country with a laptop by 2009.