There’s been one heck of a conversation over whether or not the One Laptop Per Child is a failure and I’d like to continue it with another conversation focussed on whether or not the cell phone or the computer is the best way to go in rural villages. By that I mean education and much else. Check out this story on the use of the cell phone in Africa, India and emerging markets.

Here’s a brief quote: “A mobile phone can dramatically improve living standards by saving wasted trips, providing information about crop prices, summoning medical help, and even serving as a conduit to banking services. “The cell phone is the single most transformative technology for development,” says Columbia University economist and emerging markets expert Jeffrey Sachs.

My point is a simple one. We don’t know which tool is appropriate in the villages of India, Africa and China. We may be projecting our own values in assuming it should be a laptop. What is actually happening on the ground is in these villages is surprising to us. The cell phone is the means of connecting to the web and to the outside world. It just may be that it is also key to education. I don’t know but a deep dive into the village cultures way before prototypes were placed before kids might have made a difference. As it often does in design research.

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