Playing Our Game By Our Rules

At the beginning of this month I posted on a project run by MIT that aims to produce a million lap tops at the cost of $100 each and distributing them to the schools of third world nations. I thought that this would be pretty good idea, but then I dropped the idea by Melodie, a friend of a friend and a student at the School for International Studies in Brattleboro, VT.

Melodie brought up some interesting considerations about the ramifications of such a project on countries in the third world. Not that she was flatly against the project so to speak. I think that she brought up the fact that this project may not do what we think it will do and may in fact bring about some unintended harm.

In the ensuing discussion with some friends over dinner, we talked about “post-development” concepts. For example, is it really helpful for the West to teach the rest of the world to play the economic game our way with our rules and our tools? Melodie has been trying to explore ways to help third world countries that go beyond the current trends in third world development. We all agreed that it’s a hard box to step out of.

I do find it fascinating to think that globalization, while benefitting some regions of the world, may also bring destruction to cultures that rely on simple, local economies. Even if big companies like Starbucks have chummy “relationships” with coffee farmers in Africa, is this really helpful to the people in the region as a whole?? Perhaps it is, but then there are always drawbacks in globalization. Is it a simple matter of the good outweighing the bad? Of do we need to seek a higher moral plane that dictates our economic, environmental, etc. policies?

As a part of God’s Kingdom that is bringing spiritual salvation and physical liberation to the world, I think that these kinds of issues are worth our consideration. Yes I want to support missionaries, apostles, and church planters who will share the Gospel message about Christ. But I also want to support the Gospel message that brings liberation to people, and I think that evaluating a cause to support can be a bit more tricky in this case. Indigenous church planting seems to be working; letting the locals lead the church and spread the Gospel is a great cause to support. But how to truly help people around the world who may suffer from deficiencies in food, shelter, education, work, or liberty is another matter that requires quite a bit of research and careful consideration.

5 thoughts on “Playing Our Game By Our Rules

  1. Melodie

    Hi Ed! I had the chance to bring up the MIT computer project in class today…the general response was along the lines of "why?" and also "can the infrastructure support the laptops?" Another issue is the fact that sudden access to the internet undermines the authority sources in that culture (parents, teachers, media, government) which could be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on how you look at it, but is definitely something that must be considered. Whose decision is it or should it be how schoolchildren get access to information about their culture/world? (stepping off soapbox now)

  2. Ed Post author

    Perhaps the laptop project would be better for American schools? Though there are other needs that need to be met in many communities such as basic safety (freedom from fear), shelter, and reliable sources of employment to provide a sustainable lifestyle, perhaps an influx of laptops in poor areas of America would be part, a small part, of a move toward . . . equality (?). But then again we have the issue, are the rich people just trying to make the poor people play the rich game by the rich’s own rules again?

  3. Susannah

    On the other hand, when I substitute taught in Boston, even the classroom desktop computers were basically just giant lumps of plastic that took up table space and constantly tempted kids to try to turn them on and play tetris or whatever. This has nothing to do with power and privilege and everything to do with the naturally entropic tendencies of a high school classroom. I shudder to think what it’d have been like if they’d all had laptops on their desks. And I know Neil Postman would agree. So there.

  4. Ed Post author

    But if you had to wind it up for a minute just to get 30 minutes out of it, you may reconsider the Tetris game???

    Well I’m impressed that you used the word "entropic" to describe high school students. I did a double take when I saw it in your commentand looked it up at and apparently the first definition is, "For a closed thermodynamic system, a quantitative measure of the amount of thermal energy not available to do work." That describes a lot of people that I knew in High School!

    But back to the topic at hand. Surely there is something good to be had out of the million lap tops that MIT is going to make (assuming that this project is already moving full steam ahead). What is the best use for these things? If the lap tops don’t come with games, which I would assume is the case, will kids just find out new ways to misuse them? Should we even worry about the misuse of technology if it can do a greater amount of good for the majority? Even if they can goof off on the internet with the lap tops, I think they still have some value for research and for teaching basic computer skills that may come in handy at a job. But then the issue becomes, where are we sending the lap tops and what is the local economy/infrastructure like?

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