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So many Kindles... I want them all. Too bad that's out of my price range.

one laptop per child! note the CC sticker :P

Image by laihiu via Flickr

Amazon’s $80 Kindle could close the gap in access to information technology and provide the good experience without the bad.

When I’m involved in discussions about using new media and technology in education the inevitable rejoinder is ‘What about the digital divide?” It’s great if you make the ultimate teaching tool for the iPad, but what about the 50% of the class without iPads? This problem is even more significant outside of the classroom and the solutions are no easier to discover.

Technologists like to talk about the uniting power of technology, how it brings free speech, frees society and solves problems through communication. Unfortunately this is all for naught if people can’t access digital technology or the internet.

If we want to get the revolution started we need to get technology in the hands of those least likely to have it. The technology we should get into their hands is the new Kindle.

To put this in context: From 1997 to 2007 internet users averaged out to 62 per 100 inhabitants in the developed world and 22 per 100 in the developing world. Globally it averaged to 17 internet users per 100 people.  If new technology is how we are going to remake the world, that’s a lot of people without access. Especially considering the significant gap between developed and developing countries.

I can think of two significant attempts to combat the digital divide. The Grameen Bank is one, though microloans are a sort of oblique way to come at it and combating digital divide is more after-effect than purpose. More relevant is the One Laptop Per Child project (1LPC). The 1LPC project focuses on empowering those with money to donate a rugged $100 laptop to those who would otherwise not have any access. Both are great projects and both have found some success.

Though both have reached out to the US, neither of these projects are really targeted at the issue of the digital divide that exists in developed countries (like ours). Nor have either made a truly significant dent in the divide.

What’s needed to make a real bridge across the digital divide? Why profit motive of course.

It’s nice to think about successful charity, but the cold reality of the situation is that money really does make the world go round.

Which is why Amazon is the solution. The company already takes losses on the sale of each Kindle model which they make up in book sales and, more recently, on-device advertising. Larger losses in exchange for significant audience growth is clearly something that would sell to their C-suite.

Looking at the $79 version, cheaper than a $100 laptop, the Kindle itself  is a pretty remarkable digital device and has everything that’s needed to bridge the divide.

  • Wi-fi enabled basic internet access
  • A long battery life (one month!) useful to those without constant easy access to power
  • Access to over a million books, many of which are free or educational.
  • The new software even allows Kindle users to take books out of a library for free.
  • The books that are for sale are often (over 800,000 of them) less expensive than your average ring-tone.
  • It is readable and works well outside.
  • It’s very portable and simple to use.

On top of that, Amazon could have serious incentive to ship out to non-US countries or even to provide free or discounted devices to the poor here in the US, as they would be able to make a profit off the Kindles’ advertisement sales and book purchases. Even more useful is the Kindle Keyboard 3G, which has free access to 3G internet all over the world.

Imagine an Amazon donation effort or even an Amazon-backed organization along the lines of One Laptop per Child. We could bring corporate interests together with humanitarian needs and find a real, sustainable, solution to the digital divide.

The gap between those who can easily access the future and those who cannot is significant and is a weighty problem. The Kindle is the solution.

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  1. […] Amazon has created a non-for-profit lap top for people in developing regions called Kindle. The movement is called One Laptop per Child. This is an extremely durable laptop built to withstand harsh conditions, and it costs $80. It includes Wi-Fi enabled internet access, one month battery life, and has access to over one million books. To find out more click this link […] […]