Bruce Sterling On OLPC, Mobile Phones

I have been skeptical about both OLPC and the netbooks (which I think are nothing but really really cheap laptops) because I believe that phones — smart or not — are the present and future of technology. That reality is brought into sharp focus every single time I visit India, which now has close to 400 million mobile connections. China, Brazil, Russia… mobile phone sales, despite the slump, are not going to slump. Bruce Sterling, in his speech at Webstock 09 in New Zealand made this point rather bluntly.

All the planet’s poor kids had to have desktop machines. With fiber optic. Sure! You go to Bombay, Shanghai, Lagos even, you’re like “hey kid, how about this OLPC so you can level the playing field with the South Bronx and East Los Angeles?” And he’s like “Do I have to? I’ve already got three Nokias.” The teacher is slapping the cellphone out of his hand because he’s acing the tests by sneaking in SMS traffic. “Half the planet has never made a phone call.” Boy, that’s a shame — especially when pirates in Somalia are making satellite calls off stolen supertankers. The poorest people in the world love cellphones. They’re spreading so fast they make PCs look like turtles.

Actually you should read Bruce’s post over on, because it makes the entire Web 2.0 ecosystem look into a trick mirror — with amusing results. (Photo via Flickr by Dipankar Dutta)