[Squeakland] Tracing the Dynabook: A Dissertation
jmax at sfu.ca
Mon Jan 22 15:27:39 PST 2007
On Jan 19, 2007, at 12:00 PM, bert at freudenbergs.de wrote:
> Sounds very interesting :) I of course searched the PDF for
> "OLPC" (being one of the guys who puts Etoys onto the OLPC machine),
> but it only has a brief mention. I'd be interested in your take on
I wrote the bulk of this thing before the OLPC project had gotten
very far (which made it much easier to write! :-) and so there is
just one footnote near the end.
But I did address the OLPC issue in my thesis defense. While I'm
eagerly watching the project, and have great optimism for it, I also
think that it's a grand risk -- one of the biggest shots in the dark
in recent history actually.
My reason for this assessment has everything to do with the analysis
of "computing cultures" that I talk about in the dissertation. There,
I look at Squeak in the light of the incredible weight of accumulted
Unix and Microsoft culture, which is shot through just about
everything we do on the Internet these days. With such a culture
(Eric Raymond's Art of Unix Programmming is a good ethnography), we
have (more or less) a shared worldview, vocabularly, set of virtues,
and benchmarks for what is good and what isn't.
In light of that, what Squeak is or isn't able to accomplish in the
'developed world' is in response to or contrast to that dominant
culture. It's an uphill battle some of the time (as we all know), but
it also provides people at least a background against which Squeak's
vision of the world can be seen/compared/evaluated. But... take it to
Africa or wherever, and give it to kids who've never even been
exposed to Microsoft culture, let alone Unix, let alone PARC/
Smalltalk/etc., and who knows how they will make sense of any of it.
Maybe the lack of cultural baggage is a good thing, because there's
less unlearning of the Unix way needed; EToys can be taken at "face
value". Or maybe it makes it even more alien and remote and
In sum, I guess my "take on it" is that to focus on the technological
achievements of OLPC (as the blogs are so fond of doing) vastly
underestimates the amount of cultural context required to make sense
of those achievements. We can take that context mostly for granted.
Without the cultural background, however, it seems like a major shot
in the dark. May it bring forth great and unseen things!
- John Maxwell
Canadian Centre for Studies in Publishing
Simon Fraser University
jmax at sfu.ca
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