Blogging from DLD – Part 1

This afternoon saw the start of the DLD conference in ole Munich town, which I posted about a couple of weeks ago. It’s probably one of the biggest and most prestigious¬†media/technology events in Europe, all the more remarkable as it only has 450 invitation-only delegates. This makes it surprisingly intimate and you really can be standing next to Anina, Craig of the List fame or founders of Skype and Flickr respectively, Niklas Zennstr??m or Caterina Fake.

But it was Nicholas Negroponte who was the star of the first session for me, with more tales of his $100 laptop project, which is in full swing and has the potential to really change the world. Not many people historically can ever claim to have changed the world and if the man pulls this off, we’ll be privileged to have witnessed such an event.

The big idea, in case you missed it, is to give every child in the world a laptop computer, which is now actually in production – indeed, he had Number 5¬†out of the factory¬†with him to show us. It’s mainly open source and anyway,¬†completely DRM free, which is one reason why it can be provided so cheaply. A net connection is also built in and kids can be given access to the huge resource of the web for $1 a month per child.

In case you didn’t know, there are about 1.4 billion kids out there and 50% don’t even have access to electricity. So the laptops can be hand cranked and (unusual for even $5,000 machines) are designed to be legible in direct sunlight.

But, sceptics say, $100+ multiplied by a billion or so, if still a very big number and thus the dream would be impossible to execute. Not so. Negroponte has sorted funding out with the World Bank already. They’ll carry the loan over 5 years and governments can pay for the computers out of money already earmarked for eduction. I mean, what’s going to open up minds more – a working laptop with web access, or what, a couple of text books per year?

While this is all laudable, there’s a very big dream behind this. Education helps children think for themselves and the more they do this, the less likely they are to fall for the propaganda the poor and poorly educated are likely to be fed by their leaders and exploiters. The more they can question these “truths”, the more likely it is that irrational hatreds, religious wars, racial and class stereotypes will be maintained and who knows, maybe it’ll be the start of a massive and genuine grassroots worldwide peace movement.

Two interesting other thoughts for me were:

Children up the the age of six, learn by doing. Then they’re expected the learn by being told.

Secondly, the laptops are mesh networked, meaning that they can connect with each other and via each other, to all the others in the network. This means that, for instance, a private network of computers could reach across huge swathes of the world. Who knows what societal change such a thing might bring? It’s a little mind boggling actually.

A few other quotes that caught my attention.

The web represents a “culture of generosity” and that we’re seeing the “sunset of the web” in that the¬†mobile will¬†increasingly¬†be used to consume, with the PC more about creating content¬†- Caterina Fake. Nice to see she agrees with me 🙂

“Whisper marketing” coined by Thierry Antinori, Marketing Director of Lufthansa. Never heard it called that before, but it’s another phrase for world of mouth. He also said that they were shortly launching a way of diagnosing and treating illness onboard planes and that the mobile would soon become the proxy for the boarding pass. Both pretty obvious innovations actually, but nice to know they’re coming.

Linda Stone¬†also gave a very interesting speech about Attention and in particular today’s “Continuous Partial Attention” phenomenon, where we try to focus on too many things, in case we miss something really important. This leads to a state of constant crisis and many people¬†to mental unease and indeed, illness.

However, this phase is going to be over soon and we’ll enter the Unifocus period, where we’ll use technology tools (like presence)¬†to help us decide what to focus on and how best to accomplish this.

Her view is that the history of software was initially about features and adding more and more. Then ease of use and usability took over. Tomorrow it’s going to be about products and services that improve quality of life, which has to be great news, if she’s right.


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