Sunday, November 4, 2012

Meanwhile, Your Dad Is Still Looking For The 'Any' Key

The next time you're stuck on a set of instructions for something or other, thinking you're never going to figure it out, I want you to take note of an experiment run by the people at One Laptop Per Child.

Typically, the mission of One Laptop Per Child is to take inexpensive laptops into underprivileged parts of the world and teaching kids how to use them, and then running them through an education curriculum. The thing is, though, they've been finding the factoid-based method of doing things isn't working as well as if the children figure out a practical use for the knowledge they get. (As any American student will tell you.)

So one day they decided to just dump a couple boxes of laptops in a pair of villages in Ethiopia about 50 miles outside of Addis Ababa (one laptop per child in the area, naturally) and drive off. That's it. That's all the instruction the kids got. Here's a couple boxes, they're taped shut, they've got stuff in them. Have fun. Please note that the village in question has a literacy rate close to zero. They have no idea what these boxes are, they have no idea what these things are in them, they don't know what these strange symbols are on it, and that's before the things even turn on, assuming they even know that 'on' is a viable concept here. Just... here's mysterious stuff. Figure it out. The laptops came loaded with some tracking devices, just in case they figured it out, to see what they did with them.

It took all of four minutes to figure out that 'on' is a viable concept here, and to get a laptop to turn on. Within two weeks, the kids had loaded up an average of 47 apps per laptop. And then they got really good. Five months after the strange boxes of stuff had been randomly dumped in a nearly completely illiterate Ethiopian village, the kids had hacked Android. Hacked. As in, they got into things they were not supposed to. Specifically, One Laptop Per Child had locked the desktop-setting function, as they had meant all the desktops to look the same, and the kids managed to pick the lock and customize the desktops.

What have you accomplished today?

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