Great article in Wired News Online with Nicholas Negroponte, founder of the MIT Media Lab and of Wired (hmm, wonder how Wired got an exclusive interview with him?). Negroponte recently unveiled a prototype laptop at the recent U.N. World Summit that can be produced for close to $100 a pop. His plan is to sell these to developing countries, and have every child in the world to own a laptop by 2010. Many countries (including the U.S.) have already placed orders, so this really could happen. What are some of the possible side effects of something like this?

The first, and most obvious one, seems to be that children will have access, very quickly to the WWW, and to a device which can accelerate their learning process dramatically. What happens when millions and millions of children begin to make cognitive leaps in cultures that are still living in tribe-like, near-desolate conditions? What happens when they begin learning object-oriented computer languages and start cranking out all kinds of software? Watch out Microsoft, and watch out Apple. These laptops are loaded with Linux, the open-source Operating System, created and used by the technologically savvy from day 1. But the impact is not limited to the technological world…

The writers at blogsite WorldChanging often discuss an idea called Leapfrogging, which is fairly simple. The basic idea is that “areas which have poorly-developed technology or economic bases can move themselves forward rapidly through the adoption of modern systems without going through intermediary steps.” From a technological standpoint it is possible that some of these developing countries that are receiving thousands and even millions of laptops can effectively leapfrog entire epochs of technological innovation. They don’t have to create electricity, discover the value of a vacuum tube, or start the Internet. All of that has already been done, over many years, and now will be available to them immediately, just as it has been available to us for nearly a decade in the developed world.

Seeing the above as potential leap in the exterior social dimension, or in Wilber-speak the Lower Right Quadrant, from a more interior cultural perspective could this possibly mean that entire Ethnocentric countries could make a leap to Worldcentric awareness? If so, what impact would that have on the world at large…? Certainly, and initially, it would be mass chaos. Never before have so many people made such a large jump, in what could potentially be, such a short time. Undeveloped countries could effectively become developing countries overnight (imagine there being a couple dozen more Chinas or India’s on the world scene in as little as 15 years).

As much as developed countries say they want the rest of the world to develop, will that just be too much too quick, especially given most countries competitive streaks (here I’m mainly referring to the good ol U.S. of A.)? What happens when we’re no longer one of the leaders in the tech-field (or in any field), and we become just one of many developed countries? This could have some very rash consequences, depending on who’s in power, and how adaptable the American people are. Worst case scenario to me, is that we find someway to try and sabotage this whole process, and cause a lot of harm in the process, instead of gracefully transitioning into becoming a single node in an emerging global system (or global organism depending on how you look at it).

But if these countries do in fact leapfrog, and the rest of the world can hold it together, then is that necessarily a good thing? Negroponte says of his project that, “There’s no angle to it that’s bad….” This naivety, and straight-up ignorance, is going to leave a bitter after-taste in the mouths of many people, if we don’t start looking at the possible effects that this kind of leapfrogging could have on the countries that are receiving and distributing these laptops. One thing I haven’t mentioned is my concern about how deeply a gap could widen between the kids who are receiving these laptops and the parents/elders who are not. These kids could effectively make huge leaps in their own cognitive understandings, and leave cultural stories behind almost completely. This is likely not going to have a positive impact on their relations with the previous generation.

There’s also the question of levels-and-lines (basically meaning that specific intelligences can be developed, such as one’s cognitive intelligence, but that other intelligences might not be, such as moral or kinesthetic intelligences). Computing will certainly effect the development of cognition, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that this newfound cognition is going to be used in the service of a higher awakening. What happens if we have a couple million more hackers writing viruses that are essentially crippling the global economy? Just handing millions of kids laptops, loaded with programming environments, and not making any other changes to their cultural and social environments could be total disaster. The fact that no one is talking about this, or even thinking about this as far as I can tell, is truly worrisome.

What’s needed is a more comprehensive approach to this whole issue, so that we don’t end up rushing to help save the developing world, and in the process shoot the emergence of a stable global infrastructure in the foot. In the end doing so could have untold consequences, and if we aren’t willing or able to look at that possibility together, then we’ll have very little power to put out the fires which are sure to erupt.

About Vincent Horn

Vincent Horn is a mind hacker & buddhist geek. He has been practicing Buddhist meditation intensively since his freshman year in college–including a year on intensive silent retreats–and began teaching in 2010 with the support of his own teachers, Kenneth Folk and Daniel Ingram. In addition Vincent co-founded the popular media company Buddhist Geeks in 2006. His work focuses on the fusion of nascent technology and contemplative wisdom, and has been featured on the pages of Wired, Fast Company, Tricycle, and the Los Angeles Times. Along with his wife Emily, he makes his home in Asheville, North Carolina—that is until the distinction between atoms and bits dissolves completely.


  • Lyon says:

    Couldn’t of put it better myself. This is a truly remarkable situation, that no one seems to be thinking about in a larger context. It indeed seems to be pushing the limits of progress. The high pitched cry of revolution is soon to resound the world over. This is a sure fire formula for a generational civil war, however that might look in the 21st century with near ubiquitous computing.

    Another aspect of it I have thought a little bit about is the education content that is intended to be used by children. Outfitted with a little more than a gig of memory, Negroponte definitely seems to be pushing the thin client idea. I would imagine that these laptops are at least in part intended to provide access to textbooks that are otherwise unavailable. Projects like wikibooks and MIT”s open coursware will immediately take on a much bigger meaning and a much greater importance. Proprietary books will just not do because of the obvious lack of funds of the world’s poor. Whole governments will first attempt to create the books that children are meant to read. But those won’t last very long. Especially in a world that in five to seven years will have practically perfect translation software capabilities, and projects like wikipedia will be hundreds of times as big and where there is hundreds of times as many of them. Ego/Ethnocentric parents with worldcentric children–I can hear protests and uprisings already beginning.

  • Vince says:

    Thanks Lyon for your additions! As you probably already guessed, this post was a inspired by our brief conversation the other day… Interesting stuff for sure.

  • Seeing the above as potential leap in the exterior social dimension, or in Wilber-speak the Lower Right Quadrant, from a more interior cultural perspective could this possibly mean that entire Ethnocentric countries could make a leap to Worldcentric awareness?

    Your reasoning falls apart after this sentence. Primarily because you lose all sense of context. Exterior social dimension — of what? Lower Right Quadrant — of what? Interior cultural perspective — of what?

    Your answer to “of what?” appears to be, rather startlingly, all underdeveloped and developing countries. If you feel comfortable collapsing all the various contexts of these countries into a single context, more power to you. But don’t expect to win many real debates. But don’t fret, you and baldy share this problem. His famous four quadrants diagram lacks real context, as well. I still think I’m the only one to have cited this problem.

    If gov’ts want to purchase computers for their citizens, then on balance I say go for it. It is an investment, and every investment carries risks and rewards. Regardless, it still takes time to learn how to use computers, time to learn how to think in ways that take advantage of the computer’s multiperspectivity, and time to build any sort of online community that lasts more than a day. There is a learning curve for all technology, moreso for computers.

    Thus I see no evidence that a ‘rush’ of any kind would ensue. This sounds like some sort of bastardized Gravesian “momentous leap” and it is equally speculative, and unproven. Even first worlders have reservations about the benefits of computers. Outside of email and word processing, many people loath to work at their machine. It is too private and isolated an experience for many people.

    This part of Negroponte’s interview is very compelling, as well as an answer to your seeming paranoia:

    “WN: Here’s a potential downside: How long is it going to be before somebody writes a computer virus that takes advantage of this mesh network to start spreading?

    Negroponte: You’ve got to be careful here. That’s a little like saying you ought to not teach people how to read and write because they could write messages to each other about how to build a bomb. Anything you tell me that has to do with education, I can tell you how it’s not a good idea because they could read a book on how to make a bomb or something…. I’m more worried about the reverse.”

    Unless we believe our own development, in a first world environment, is a bad thing, then we ought not fear the development sure to ensue from the spread of the computer medium.

    Now, if you want to write a book on computer ethics 101, that would be a different issue entirely. It took me several months to persuade even my mother to refrain from the chain-mail forwards — “send this to 10 friends in the next 10 minutes and you will be a millionaire” — and this, bless her heart, is a college educated woman. By all means write that book.

  • Vince says:

    Matthew, on your blog you say that I have a decidedly skeptical view… I would say that is wrong, and could’ve told you that had you asked me. The first three paragraphs are really not skeptical at all, but are rather pointing to what I think is something very cool! (see the 1st and 2nd paragraphs in particular). I see now reading over them, that I didn’t really share much of my personal opinion, but thought that my excitement about it was at the very least implicit.

    As far as your point on collapsing all of these cultural contexts together, it’s a very good point, and I appreciate it. Surely, all of these countries as well as sub-communities and sub-cultures within the country (Thailand, Brazil, China, Cambodia, etc.), who are planning on purchasing and distributing the laptops are very different cultures, and are operating in very different contexts. To say that they will all have a similar reaction to the influx of technology would be totally wrong. But, I’m merely exploring a general idea, on my blogsite. To come on here and nitpick it to death, as if it’s a piece of academic writing, or as if I’m actually trying to win a debate (which you seem incessantly committed too) is totally ridiculous. I’m just sharing some basic ideas, not claiming that I’ve covered every single base. Shit, I don’t know enough about each of these specific countries to know what the reaction is going to be in each one, I’m just interested in exploring some possible reactions that could happen in countries that are still developing, i.e. do not yet have the same access to technology that we in a “first world environment” have.

    Negroponte and the leaders of these countries who are ordering the machines are just planning on dropping millions of laptops on these kids, who live in environments that are quite different than are own, and don’t seem to have really thought through the possible unpleasant consequences as far as I can tell. But even so that doesn’t mean that it’s a bad idea, or that it isn’t even a necessary idea, whose time has come. I do not, “fear the development sure to ensue from the spread of the computer medium.” In fact I spent the whole 3rd paragraph discussing leapfrogging, which I’m a huge proponent of, and I think is a wonderful and necessary idea. My main contention is that there will be, as a side effect of whatever development is sure to ensue, some growing pains as well, and these are often overlooked. That’s really all I’m saying Matthew. Everything else you’ve assumed or added, without first clarifying with me, really is beside the point as far as I’m concerned.

  • Vince, you are obviously a smart guy, and I appreciate the courage you exhibit by getting out there and writing about the world. So many bloggers continue to exclusively write about themselves, it is fucking suffocating.

    But I’m wrote about what you wrote, not about you. In your piece, I got none of your excitement whatsoever, your phrase “great article” aside. I’ll revise that part of my blog intro accordingly.

    It also bears mention that your piece conflates worldview studies with media studies, sociology, psychology, and geopolitics, and treating each superficially in my view. Given your proximity to Wilber and integral(TM) central, I can only think that this is a rub-off.

    All that aside, if you meant ‘growing pains’ then – o brother where art thou – just say growing pains. But “mass chaos” doesn’t sound like growing pains. “Bitter after-taste in the mouths of many people” doesn’t sound like growing pains. A negative “impact on their relations with the previous generation” doesn’t sound like growing pains. A lack of “service of a higher awakening” doesn’t sound like growing pains. A “couple million more hackers writing viruses” doesn’t sound like growing pains. And for god’s sake, “total disaster” doesn’t sound like growing pains. Oh, and did I mention shooting the “emergence of a stable global infrastructure in the foot” and “fires which are sure to erupt”? If all those stand for growing pains, then ‘growing pains’ all lost any kind of distinct meaning.

    For fuck’s sade I’m not nitpicking, and if you don’t want people to comment on your blog, in the challenging way I’m doing, then don’t allow comments. I’m making an argument (the classic definition of argument – “a series of statements leading from a premise to a conclusion”). Specifically, I’m making an argument that your argument doesn’t hold water. Your conclusion that we need a more comprehensive examination is not supported, and rather sounds like boilerplate fulfillment of Wilberian injunction, for its own sake. I think you can do better, having read your blog over the last couple months.

    If you have investigated Negroponte’s, Annan’s, and other intentions, then by all means share. I would like to read the fruits of your investigations. Neither the Wired article, nor your reasoning, support your incantation for more thinking through, or that they already haven’t thought things through and are just presenting a popularized version to the press, in order to make waves in the televised and online media. Those requires compression of larger intent into, basically, sound- and info-bytes. To stick out in a mosaic world is more than a small sticky wicket.

    And I’ll return to my final point, from the blog version of my response, that we aren’t sermonizing about the spread of television, so what gives with all this about computers? There indeed are fundamental differences between the computer and the television — namely, the former transcends and includes the latter, and most if not all previous technology in some form or another. (I’ll have a blog entry about this soon).

    But I assert that by and large (that is to say, for the purposes of general, not specialized, usage by folks), the computer is just the television plus bells and whistles (the passive made slightly more participatory, in ways that already existed through other mediums). The fundamental differences between pc and tv aren’t felt, and thus computer consciousness not fundamentally different than tv consciousness, until a great deal of time and experience with the computer medium has accrued. Multiperspectivity is not an immediate effect.

    People already write letters, write papers/essays, and read the news. The computer consolidates these more participatory mediums. When we write letters in email, it is basically the telegraph meets typewriter meets mailtruck/airplane. When we write papers/essays through word processing, it is basically the typewriter meets gutenberg press meets tree harvesting. When we read the news, it is basically the gutenberg press meets newspaper/book meets telegraph/television. I could go on and on, but you surely get the point.

    To negotiate all this is the level of multi-perspectivity that is fostered in the common usages of computers. Further multi-media implosions, multi-variable code programming, microchip circuitry, etc. is the stuff of computer specialists. I mean, even to combine video, photos, animation, and text in a blog sounds simple enough, but is pretty rare. This is because of the creation and the execution of multimedia broadcasting is far more difficult than it is to simply perceive multimedia created by others. The simpler things look, usually the more complicated they are under the hood.

    All of it is cyphoned through the television screen, now portable and hi-res/hi-def, but still basically a television screen. If developing countries can handle the television, reading and writing, they can handle the computer with some education. And I don’t think any of this is beside the point, your concerns aside. That there will be growing pains is both accurate and, well, elementary.

  • Vince says:

    If it’s elementary, then it’s elementary, in which case you can use your time and energy more efficiently by reading and commenting on less elementary blogs. ;)

  • Blog not elementary, point within blog entry elementary. I take the hint that your interest in discourse has ended. Good night, and good luck.

  • Yikes,

    What’s the big deal here? Chill out Matt. Your lingering resentment related to Ken and I-I ain’t Vince’s fault. Jeesh dude!!

    noticing the obvious anyone,
    David Jon

    P.S. Why is Matt such a prick in tone towards Vince? And yeah, if you read this Matthew, you are coming across as a total dick-head. And if you don’t think ‘tone matters’ then try that theory out with your intimate others. ; o )

    You know that ‘tone ALWAYS matters.’ Tone outshines content in most if not all cases. The vibe you give off in your comments to Vince’s teensy weensy little post was way over the top. So the post seems to me to be any excuse to ‘vent undelying emotional content.’

    But hey… what the fuck do I know. I am just a dickhead too!! ; o)

    P.S. Keep pluggin’ away Vince. Don’t worry about being the perfect scholar. I mean… shi-it… who is!! Matthew?? ; o )

  • I often wonder to myself what kind of ‘tone’ encourages further discourse and what manner of ‘tone’ aborts the same. There was some scuttle-butt (Sara Ross) a year or more ago related to Ken’s treatment of questions and queries in I-I staff meetings that seemed to suggest there was an abortion/frustration of further discourse. A certain tendency to belittle, to come across as superiour, to mock, to disparage–whether intended as personal or not–is taken personally to the point that discourse becomes aborted.

    I just wonder how ‘tone’ relates to democracy and the free and friendly (operative words there) exchange of ideas. If we want to talk with each other, doesn’t it matter HOW we talk, as much as WHAT we talk about?

    That’s, I suppose, the only reason I feel it necessary to say something when someone is exhibiting what appear to me to be dick-headed tendencies that most all of us are prone to exhibiting to one degree or another.

    Your Fellow Prick,
    David Jon

  • Mr Peckinpaugh,
    I will not dignify what you wrote; other than to say that I think your assessments are poor on all counts. I posted comments to talk about the implications of computer technology in developing countries, as well as the way we think about both, and not go-nowhere inquiries into shadow psychology or the subjective sound of typography (a funny effect of letters, don’t you think — that we add our soundtracks to phonetic sequentialism is one of the wonders of the printed media).

    It is all pretty simple really — I used the second comment to clarify my first, in light of Vince’s response. My sole interest is lively debate, and made no claims save to show dedicated interest in just that.

    I’ll reiterate that there is a lot of intelligence behind, and that I appreciate the courage of Vince to write about this issues, in a non-suffocating manner. When it seemed that he no longer wanted to discuss this issue, then I signed off. That what where it was left. I checked back to see if there was any further discussion on-topic, and there was not.

    I sincerely hope you do not respond to this, other than to actually talk topically about the issue on the cyber-floor. I feel bad using up VH’s pixel-space with this correction, but I do so hoping to steer things back to the road.

    Happy to continue on-topic if this catches fire again. I’ll do so on my blog so check over there if you are interested.

    I do want to thank Vince for bringing this topic up. Grazie.

    G over C,

  • coolmel says:

    WTF is going on here? anyway, i think some of the discussions are getting too personal and ignoring the real implications of “leapfrogging.” so just let me continue on another track here.

    like i mentioned earlier the $100 laptop is just another step towards what Ray Kurzweil calls the Singularity. and “leapfrogging” is just another fancy term for the exponential growth of technology.

    integral theory aside, i think KW hit the bulls-eye when he said that “The techno-economic mode is the single strongest determinant of the average mode of consciousness in a culture….” take note that it didn’t say “the only determinant.” the $100 laptop is just one way of making it easier for developing nations to have a lower barrier of entry into what the developed nations have been enjoying (and ignoring) all along. of course this will not automatically pull entire cultures into the upward spiral of consciousness development overnight. but this step will certainly help in making information available to more people and speed up learning, hence development. but the question is, development into what? the utopian answer is of course developing into “higher” modes of consciousness. but a more honest answer is, nobody really knows. we can only hope and guess. and all bets are off once we hit the singularity, whatever that is.

    the laptop is just a dumb terminal. the network is the computer. the $100 laptop will enrich the network, and us, because we are the web.

  • Hola Rommel,

    Chicago is cold. Good news is that Wilco’s album was released to temper the winter chills.

    Yes, that is Wilber’s interpretation of Marx’s insight. I’ve had that soundbyte in mind quite a bit as I’ve thought through this topic, in part to see whether I agree with it. Seems fine as a soundbyte, as is the case with so much of Wilber’s recent work.

    Questioning the assumption, I’m not sure that it is phrased as good as it could be, Marx aside (and it is quite likely that Wilber got superficial with Marx, if Wilber’s M.O. holds in this case, so I’ll have to check that out).

    Anyway, it seems more accurate to reduce the emphasis upon ‘consciousness’ and rather concentrate upon ‘perspectives’. That is, perhaps retool the statement as “a determinant of the average mode of perspective exchange” or something like that. I suggest this change, or something like it, because technology means media, and what media present/channel are perspectives. Consciousness is an overused term, fast becoming meaningless. It might already be meaningless, especially in the integral ™ circle.

    To your “development into what?” question, I forward now (as I forwarded above, in case you missed it) that it is a development into multiperspectivity. And if multiperspectivity already existed in the cultures (as is likely), then I’ll further qualify to say a development into the particular kind of multiperspectivity fostered by the computer. Contrary to the public dogma, the television has fostered great depth of perspective, which is why the long speech or sermon is so off-putting for most; by the mere television image, we are intimate and within its message.

    Computers, an evolution beyond television that includes much of its qualities, have so many previous media wrapped into it, some directly, some indirectly, going back at least to the Gutenberg printing press, if not the invention of the phonetic alphabet itself. (Transcends and includes, yes). With new media comes, sometimes, the facilitation of new perspectives through the irrigation provided in the media. I have written previously about the ‘planet-centric iPod’ and that little box can provide perspectives on the entirety of recorded music from anywhere, a startling portal. The computer is a similarly startling presentation.

    Media extend consciousness, following McLuhan’s reasoning (which I agree with completely as a metaphor), so what the computer media extends into form is the human body/mind’s capacity for multiple perspectives amidst simultaneity (or perceived simultaniety). The computer, in its programming, transcends sequentialism (commonly the ‘assembly line’ approach) in favor of the total, “all at once” quality suggested by electricity itself.

    This is not about the content of the media (what is actually on the computer is not the point, in our long-computerized culture as well as any other). It is rather about the mental reconciliation of “so much in such a small box” that is the computer. We are basically talking about giving people the equivalent of LSD — a “post-mosaic” mesh of perspectives upon life, perspectives user-friendly and encouraging of participation. A likewise, very bewildering at times. And tiresome.

    To your next point, actually, I think the network is the network and the computer is the computer. The collapse of the two seems provocative, able to sell books, acquire speaking fees, but really meaningless in practice. A network is as dumb as the box, and visa versa; but it seems silly to attach terms of intelligence (dumb, smart) to technology, qualifiers of context/usage aside.

    Look deeper; which is to say, unfold at the roots of it. The network, for all its bells and whistles, facilitates transfer of data; it is a modern day pony express, which was an improvement upon transfer by foot, or by sail, but no different in essential transportive function. Whereas, as I have suggested, the meat of the real impact of the laptop proposal is that the computer fosters multiperspectivity. This happens regardless a network (though is supported by it when present), if provided with certain programming, software, or functionality, which is the case for what Negroponte’s proposal includes.

    Finally, I haven’t been impressed thus far by the merits of “leapfrogging”, at least as how presented in my relatively short research of it. To say that societies “leapfrog” because they adopt cellphones without first implanting landlines seems a distinction without a difference. Sounds translative rather than transformative. A landline and a cellphone are both still phones. Technological improvement is required for both. Cellphone towers are more complicated than landline towers, perhaps, but the difference is far smaller than a comparison between cultures without phones and culture with. THAT is enormous.

    Furthermore, to expect that cultures go through all the intermediary technological steps to get from A to B seems aloof to history, not informed by it. A phone is a phone, no matter the bells and whistles; a home is a home, no matter if on the ground or in a tower. Clothes are clothes, no matter how many zippers or folds. Again, the real comparison is with what was previous to having clothes at all. Being naked vs the first fig leaf is an enormous advance; what follows after that far less enormous and incremental.

    Please provide a link if you can to a succinct but thorough explanation. (I read the Leapfroggingg 101 piece.) Right now, the concept sounds elementary, but I’m quite open to a change of that assessment provided a good read about it.

    Thanks for continuing on another track. I’ll probably revise these comment on my blog.

    Also, on my blog, check out today’s entry called “WI-FI COMPUTERS IN THE REPUBLIC OF MACEDONIA” for more on this topic.


  • coolmel says:

    MD wrote: “Finally, I haven’t been impressed thus far by the merits of “leapfrogging”, at least as how presented in my relatively short research of it. To say that societies “leapfrog” because they adopt cellphones without first implanting landlines seems a distinction without a difference.”

    well… maybe you’re not impressed because you haven’t been to the Philippines yet. i would argue that the cellphone is one of the most (if note the most)important technological leapfrog that happened to my country in recent generation. it has even outdone the pc and the laptop, and heck even the internet. consider this: aside from connecting thousands of segregated islands, an almost impossible feat if we depend on freakin’ landlines, cellphones almost single-handedly put everyone in touch with each other, literally by a flick of a finger. not everyone in the Philippines can a afford a computer and a broadband connection, but almost everyone there can afford a cellphone. and if you want a more concrete example, how about a revolution which had overthrown a corrupt government via cellphone? if this is not leapfrogging, i don’t know what it is.

    and about “the network is the computer.” the network and the computer belong to the same “IT/ITS” domain. there’s no collapsing of quadrants here. yes, the network and the computer are dumb (from “our” perspective that is) but “we” make it intelligent (e.g. perform basic logical process in hyperspeed that no human being is capable of). but then again “the network is the computer” as Tim O’reilly expounded is deeper than that. and yes, it includes multiperspectivity as well.

    The real power of open source is that it lowers the barriers to entry, allowing people to participate more easily in development and invention. In the age of the network, which distributes the power of participation to anyone in reach of a computer, not just the people on your own development staff, the technology that makes it easiest for anyone to join in moving things forward will ultimately win.”

    now on the above Tim O’reilly quote, just replace “open source” with “$100 laptop” and you’ll appreciate the idea of leapfrogging (aka. exponential technological growth

  • Hi Rommel,

    Thanks for the continued discussion about this, and thanks for the links. I have no doubt that phone service has revolutionized the Philippines. Really, there is no arguing that, or making a case against that. And I’m quite happy to now know about this, so thanks on a personal level.

    The truth is, I wasn’t. My argument has to do with leapfrogging. I’m not convinced it really means anything. I’m impressed with the Philippines and cellphone adoption, but not impressed with leapfrogging as an argument. And I think this argument misses a media studies perspective, and suggests steps are skipped when in fact these were not. Take the definition offered in a link in Vincent’s opener:

    poorly-developed technology or economic bases can move themselves forward rapidly through the adoption of modern systems without going through intermediary steps

    And my point is that there is no step skipping in the example of cellphones, at least worthy of note. This notion of leapfrogging, as I understand it, is a “distinction without a difference”. For the same reason we don’t say a high school grad “leapfrogs” when she purchases a flat-screen LCD television as her first TV instead of, in sequence, all the versions of television going back to its introduction into culture, we don’t say that the Philippines “leapfrogged” land-line phones by going instead with cell phones.

    The country simply grew to adopt the current technology, in whatever form it is when the conditions were right for that growth. To say, as the “leapfrog” proponents argue, that this is cause for commentary on growth through steps/stages misunderstands what it means to grow through stages.

    And I think it misunderstands what is really going on with land-lines vs cellphones. The end result of each is the same — a phone, with a person on the other end in real time. But as of course you know, what goes on beneath the surface is actually two different technology bundles, two different technologies altogether. One used dedicated physical wire connections; the other generally uses radio signals, or satellite transmissions. Both get you to the end result, but take different tracks with different technology altogether.

    This is why I suggested that the difference between land-line phones and cellphone is not vertical but rather horizontal. One doesn’t require the other. Thus this isn’t a technological hierarchy. Thus no leapfrogging with a move from no phones to cellphones. This is not A to C skipping B, but simply A to B1 or A to B2. Our ability to innovate presents new technologies that require no further paving of roads in order to enact adoption, so to speak.

    And thus no reason not to call it simply what it is — growth. Important, transformative, far-reaching, even revolutionary. But it is growth, from conditions without a phone to conditions with a phone. That a seeming heirarchy is not actually a heirarchy is exactly why I feel that the Leapfroging argument is missing a media studies, that is to say, deeper, perspective.

    And I’m going to continue to challenge your arguments (this isn’t personal, if you were wondering) and move on to this statement:

    the network and the computer belong to the same “IT/ITS” domain.

    I understand why you say that — as a general comment, influenced by Wilber, to ground the overall perspective — but actually I don’t think this says much. Rather, it is far better, I argue, if you draw a new four quadrant diagram, with either technology at the center, around which are four perspectives upon it, two of which are objective (the materials, the architecture) and two of which are subjective (designer intention, user-response). That is both a far more revealing manner to understand computers, networks, or any technology (and artwork production, see “Polysemy”) as well as more intellectually rigorous.

    To use the other conception, that technology is It/Its, is another form of (sorry to repeat a pattern) a distinction without a difference. No one in their right mind would characterize computers/networks as anything but objects. This is not high philosophy, but elementary observation. Imposing the “It/Its” part of the quadrant map, ala Wilber, isn’t shedding any real light on anything in this case. You could cut it out and not lose any of your argument. I suggest you do that, and consider the approach I advocate on how to better use the concept of the quadrants.

    With regard to Mr. O’Reilly, I’ll have to dig deeper on his perspective, but I’ll say now I’m skeptical of the real benefit of that claim that “the network is the computer”. Very McLuhan, on the surface, I might add. But that doesn’t mean it holds water. For simply saying the network is the network and the computer is the computer implies no less a claim of wonder and awe at the power contained in both technologies. Networks allow us a lot of really cool shit, so no need to call it a computer.

    (Though doing so does confirm, yet again, McLuhan’s incisive observation that we define new technologies through specific words that relate to older technologies. I have already mentioned this, but if we define the newer network by terms of the older computer, there seems be something solid about McLuhan’s observation, taken for what it is worth.)

    And I don’t see how the substitution of “$100 dollar laptop” for “open source” helps the concept of leapfrogging, for reasons already revealed. More participation is indeed extraordinary, but it doesn’t mean steps are skipped. It rather means that the next step has been taken, for all its glory and its challenges.

    The point of all this is to be clearer and more accurate when we are talking about real steps, real stages, and real growth. Terms such as “revolutionary” are thrown about far too carelessly when it comes to technology. This has entirely to do with market forces, and marketing communications. I would add to this list of overused and abused terms: worldviews, consciousness, and even levels of both/either. We have to be careful about what we mean when we use these terms, because it is so easy to manhandle what, upon close inspection, are breathtaking conceptions, the products of hundreds and thousands of years of philosophical development.

    And I can’t recommend McLuhan’s Understanding Media strongly enough, for it sheds light on the discreet patterns of perception at play in various media, up to and including the television with plenty of foreshadowing of networks and computers, which McLuhan has been acknowledged to have predicted long before each’s time.

    If you don’t want to read him, then check in with my writings occasionally, because McLuhan will likely continue to be front and center (along with a couple other thinkers, such as Paglia and Housen) of my writings on art philosophy, which I’ve already suggested can be construed, in part, as a kind of media studies, though of a decidedly intuitive and creative kind.

    F over C,

  • coolmel says:

    thanks for the info. i’ll look in to McLuhan’s Understanding Media when i get the chance.

    although cellular and landlines are not hierarchical, it just so happens that the development of cellphone is. first there was phone. then bam! cellphones. even the language makes that obvious.

    but i think we’re beating and overcomplicating this too much. we can look at it different perspectives, philosophize, and analyze it to death. but it’s premise simple: “Leapfrogging is a theory of development in which developing countries skip inferior, less efficient, more expensive or more polluting technologies and industries and move directly to more advanced ones.” leapfrogging enables this technology to be tested more, improved more, and give way to “exponential” development of technology (not just vertical and horizontal). go read Kurzweil and let me know what you think. of course, just like Wilber, not everyone agrees with his idea. but just like Wilber, i think he’s on to something.

  • Cool discussion. Nice to see it went somewhere other than the ‘he said…. she said’ to and fro. ; o )

    All apologies for my own dick-headedness at any time in the past, present, and/or future. I totally respect each of you tremendously. And enjoy everyone’s voice/flavour very much–be it cinnamon or cumin.

    Keep On Rockin’ In The Free World,
    David Jon

  • One more dick-headed moment for ya’all,

    Matthew, it is totally obvious that you have issues with Vince. Why? You seem to take pleasure in a ‘belittling’ stand towards him. One that I don’t think Vince deserves. That is MY observation. And I suspect it is NOT ONLY my observation.

    I also suspect it has to do with Vince being a sort of surrogate for Ken Wilber. Again, that is MY observation… one which I don’t think is off the mark completely either.

    So, yeah, take it all with a grain of salt, if you prefer. I stand by it, though. (wink-wink)

    This Precious Life,
    David Jon

    P.S. Are you ‘too good’ to admit being a prick? Do you NEVER wake up on thw wrong-side of the bed? Are you IMMUNE from psychological issues and complications most of us mere mortals deal with? And if so…. can I be your disciple!! ; o )

  • Vince says:

    Let me just say that I don’t consider myself a surrogate of KW. ;)

  • Hey,

    How bout that, I generated agreement amongst you two.

    I am quite proud of myself. That was a MAJOUR accomplishment. In fact, I am exhausted.

    ; o )
    David Jon

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