Monday, June 1, 2009

The Netbook Effect

"Give a laptop. Change the world." are the welcoming words of the website of One Laptop Per Child. A Wired article entitled "The Netbook Effect: How Cheap Little Laptops Hit the Big Time" (Wired, March 2009) tells the story of how the low cost no-frills netbook evolved from the One Laptop Per Child initiative and predicts that netbooks will constitute 12% of the laptop market in 2010.
It sort of takes my breath away that I might actually live to see One Laptop Per Child happen. It gives me hope that we might eventually move not only as individuals, communities and countries, but as an entire species beyond subsistence level concerns.
At the same time, another part of my brain is formulating questions about what happens as an increasing proportion of personal machines are "thin" in the sense that they have low processing power and low storage capacity. The vision of democratizing the supply of services with high computational loads by distributing them over private citizens with unused processing capacity may have to be abandoned. Do we want to encourage a future in which we must rely on a distant center to store and swap our video content? Do we want to close the door on the possibility of internet content search that is supported by a million modest contributions of storage space and cpu cycles? Are we ready to give up our private capacities and allow resource rich hands to further accumulate a power monopoly removed beyond influence of the individual?