Nirmal Sethia has an interesting perspective on IT for emerging countries or for the bottom of the pyramid (BOP). Recently there is good amount of media attention to Negroponte’s $100 computer for poor people. A question many people are asking is whether such an approach based on price is the long term solution. He argued (and I could not object to his argument for an obvious reason) that such approaches are talking about developing a folk computer and are not in line with what I called a few years ago folk computing. Folk computing is an approach to computing that is about bringing functionality that will allow people from every background to reap the benefits of information technology. Folk computing is a process; it is an approach; it is a long term solution to what these people really need and could use. Many approaches based on the cost are more concerned with taking the current technology supposedly successful in the developed western (or near western) world and putting it in the hands of (poor) masses in different developing countries.
A popular saying comes to mind: Give a man a fish and he will not be hungry for a day; teach a man fishing and he will never be hungry.
Developing computing approaches that will be less dependent on a specific language, ability of using keyboard, and on literacy level of users is essential to bringing benefits of computing to masses in Africa, India, China, and many other countries. And most approaches to bring $100 computer are focused on taking current computing and infrastructure and somehow reducing the price of the device. This assumption does not appear right. What is needed is to develop not only the device but complete infrastructure that will let so called bottom of pyramid people to benefit from it because that will be for them. For content it is easy to see that content for a group of people is best prepared by that same group. If we just provide a device the problem is not solved.
So it is nice to try to develop $100 folk computer but it will be better to develop folk computing.
The difficulty is that it is easy to develop a $100 computer. It is a product with well defined goal. Folk computing is an approach to computing that will be slow to evolve and will require persistent efforts by people from different backgrounds. Nirmal Sethia’s suggestion on this is to build a network of peole interested in this and let networking be put into action. It does sound like an interesting approach.