Friday, 22 February 2008

Children, Lego, OLPC, and IP

So, I stumbled across an absolutely fascinating article care of Nat's Radar roundup: Why We Banned Legos

Now, I grew up in a Lego-mad house. It's probably one reason why both my brother Mikey and I are working in engineering-related fields. For years and years we had Lego structures and contraptions erected around the house, and one of my very first memories is playing with Lego with my cousin Hamish. Mikey and I had wars about lots of stuff as we grew up, but and I'm sure more than one was about Lego - I'll have to ask Mum.

I read this article just after reading Tom Coates' review of OLPC, and that sparked some thoughts. The Legotown issues are about access to physical property - Lego bricks. I'd say western society in general feels that physical property is commonly understood with similar attitudes. Intellectual property (patents, trademarks, copyright, ownership of ideas & discoveries, the whole shebang...) is a whole different kettle of fish, and I'd say society as a whole barely grasps the concepts, is only starting to get to grips with it, let alone has common understanding and agreement.

OLPC is all about giving knowledge and the capability to learn to kids around the world. Great. But this is physical property (a cool green high-tech laptop) combined with intellectual property (information and access). If I was a kid I'd be pretty disenfranchised if the kid down the road knew everything about everything because she had an OLPC and I didn't. Much more so than if she had a cool toy and I didn't (hey, everyone grows up like that right?).

we were struck by the ways the children had come face-to-face with the frustration, anger, and hopelessness that come with being on the outside of power and privilege.
Francis Bacon once said "Knowledge is power", and he was right. Magnitudes more powerful than controlling physical property. Normally kids don't need to deal with IP issues, but they learn about physical property early. I think the OLPC will change that, especially if only a handful of kids in a community have one. And I suspect the frustration and anger will be bigger.

Now, don't get me wrong, I think OLPC is a fantastic scheme, I'm a supporter, and I've had plenty of lively discussions around it over the past couple of years. And was lucky enough to have a play with one in San Francisco in October!

But just something to ponder :)

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