Curious: A Review of the XO $200 laptop
Kate, my neighbor across the hall, brought over her XO for me to try. She had taken advantage of One Laptop Per Child’s $400 “Give One Get One” offer in November, and while a child in the developing world was presumably exploring the donated XO, we now had her matching XO to investigate ourselves.
In my apartment, the sight of an electronic device that was built to last was almost jarring. My trembling, delicate, temperamental laptop suddenly seemed like a dying tropical bird, while the XO is a happy, healthy puppy. A tough puppy. The XO is said to withstand desert heat, direct sunlight, thick humidity, distressing falls, dirt, rainstorms and (I’m not kidding) assault by cats. Kate and I invited some preschool-age kids, including hers and mine, to come beat it up. They squealed and crowded in cinematically to glimpse the holy thing.
It was hard to open. That killed the communitarian buzz for awhile. I had charged it — with a standard AC jack, though it can also run off a custom-designed solar panel — but ignored the (online) instructions. Antennas, which I mistook for kickstands, needed to be raised. An enticingly big button that looked like a latch turned out to be a hinge.
Sarah, my upstairs neighbor, came down with her two daughters. Seeing my bewilderment, she was the first of us to mention “The Gods Must Be Crazy.” That 1980 comedy has lasted: the indelible image of a tribesman coming upon a Coke bottle in the Kalahari seems in retrospect like the last word in any number of 1970s arguments about cultural hybridization. I wondered what promises and threats the XO laptops, air-dropped like propaganda leaflets (or trucked to Catholic schools by the thousands, whichever), would conjure for students in poor countries.
This is a fun review, and I’ve always been curious about this project.
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