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One Kindle Per Child

Is Nicholas Negroponte preparing to launch a One Kindle Per Child-type project? You might think so if you read his piece in Global Post extolling the virtues of e-readers (especially in the developing world.)

The manufactured book stunts learning, especially for those children. The last thing these children should have are physical books. They are too costly, too heavy, fall out-of-date and are sharable only in some common and limited physical space.

Paper books also do not do well in dampness, dirt, heat or rain. Not to mention that 320 textbooks require, on average, one tree and produce about 10,000 pounds of CO2 in manufacturing and delivery. This makes no sense. Kids in the developing world should not be sent physical books.

The only way to provide books to the 2 billion children in the world is electronically. You cannot feed children or clothe them electronically, but you can certainly educate and provide hope with these weightless, sizeless and mostly costless 1’s and 0’s.

Read the whole thing here.

The Indian government has been at the forefront of trying to create a tablet for the masses, although previous promises haven't always amounted to very much. Last week, Wired reported that the Indian government showed off a prototype of what it claimed to be a $35 tablet (watch the video above) running on Android.

Negroponte's organization, One Laptop Per Child (OLPC), which aims to provide kids in the developing world with cheap, low-power laptops, has shown signs of wanting to get involved. Earlier in August, OLPC wrote an open letter to the Indian government offering to make its technology and expertise available for the $35 tablet project.

(Ryan Paul at "Gears and Gadgets" has some good background on OLPC's rocky relationship with India's Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD)).

There's obviously a lot of development folks excited about the possibilities of e-readers. "The Wall Street Journal's" "Digits" blog reported on August 5 that a non-profit called Worldreader is trying out giving schoolkids in Ghana Kindles to use at school and at home.

[Worldreader founder David] Risher says he thinks e-books will let the developing world skip the paper stage, in much the same way cell phones have helped countries skip the landline stage. E-readers, he says, are more akin to cellphones than laptops -- and are well designed for the developing world because they don’t consume much power and they use the universal GSM network. “Computers play a great role, but e-readers really solve the reading problem much more direct and simple way,” says Risher.

It all makes sense: e-readers are pretty damn durable, cheap, and consume hardly any power -- which are some of the fundamental requirements of OLPC laptops.

But for a variety of contentious reasons OLPC laptops never quite caught on and were eclipsed by the proliferation of mobile phones in the developing world.

As Ryan Paul points out, maybe, by offering to work with the Indian government, "it reflects OLPC's evolving views about the value of collaboration." OLPC previously had fraught relations with its partners.

Anyway, check out Negroponte's piece. It's nice to hear a bit of techno-optimism again.