The End Of Books. The Beginning Of Reading. How The Peace Corps Could Make A Difference!

Did you see the interview today with CNN’s Howard Kurtz and Nicholas Negroponte, founder of One Laptop per child? Negroponte says that the days of the physical book are numbered.  As e-book readers and tablet computers become more common, physical books could disappear sooner than expected.

“It will be in five years,” said Negroponte. “The physical medium cannot be distributed to enough people. When you go to Africa, half a million people want books … you can’t send the physical thing.”

Negroponte emphasized the efficiency of being able to put hundreds of books on the laptops his organization sends to villages. “We put 100 books on a laptop, but we also send 100 laptops. That village now has 10,000 books,” he said.

It is for this reason that I have been campaign (without any success) to get the Peace Corps to send PCVs overseas with a Laptop to leave behind, just as we left behind Book Lockers in the early years of the agency. Book Lockers that started school libraries in villages around the world.

Today Negroponte thinks that when it comes to ‘e-books’ the developing countries may actually be doing it faster than developed countries.

“That’s what cell phones did,” Negroponte said. “Cell phones were more popular in Cambodia and Uganda because they didn’t have phones. We had phones in this country, and we were very late to the table. They’re going to adopt e-books much faster than we do.”

Negroponte founded One Laptop per Child in 2005 with the goal of providing one internet-connected laptop to every school-age child in the world. Through the help of industry insiders, the organization created the XO, a lightweight and durable laptop.

For $199, it’s possible for individuals to buy a laptop for a child in the developing world through the website

All Aaron Williams has to do is pick up the phone and called Negroponte and say, “Hey, Nicholas, I’ve got 7,000 plus PCVs working in the developing world, let’s make a deal. You and I, why we can change the world!”

Give it a try, Aaron.  You could be the second coming of Sarge Shriver. You could remake the agency and leave a legacy.

p.s. RPCVs, let me know what you think. Leave a comment on how we might get the Director of the Peace Corps, on the 50th anniversary, to doing something new and different and wonderful for mankind.


Leave a comment
  • John, This is a great idea and so simple. Peace Corps is committed to expanding its intranet capacities and so this could certainly be part of that. It would be great, too, if Volunteers arrived with the capacity to “gift” laptops or link to “One Laptop.” I wonder if serving Volunteers are already plugged into this effort.

    I have had little luck in influencing policy, ever, anywhere. However, Director Williams does answer his mail. I think we should write him directly with this request, and copy members of our congressional delegation.

    Anthropologists used to have a “leap frog” theory. The theory suggested that developing countries were in a better position to adopt brand new technology because they could “leap frog” over obsolete technology which they had never adopted anyway.

    Good Luck.

  • Thanks, Joey. You are right in that the Director does answer his mail. At least I have been told so. I am not , however, the person to lead a mailing campaign to get this laptop program underway. I am not considered a ‘friend’ of the agency, what will my constant comments on what the agency should be doing.

    However, there might be someone in the group of RPCVs who would and could rally the troops. I would certain help and broadcast information and make suggestions if someone steps forward to organize the mailing effort.

  • I’m all in favor of distributing laptops, etc., around the world, but as for books “disappearing” in five years, this is the usual Mechanics Illustrated futuristic nonsense, flying commute cars and set phasers to stun. I guarantee books will stick around, however diminished.

  • But, look at the cost: we can’t even get computers into poor kids in this country. Also, how many people can fit on a computer in order to read? Finally, computers do not teach critical thinking which is so necessary to gain a really useful education. Sorry, but as a student of economics, I just multiplied $199 times a billion kids and thought that with all of the years that I worked in anti-poverty public policy, legislative bodies have never funded a sucessful program, based on demonstrated. The rule is that if elected officials admit it is a problem, they have to do something about it, so what do you think they do? Deny that the problem exists.

  • Dave–we can’t get books to all the poor kids in this country, let alone computers. Perhaps we shouldn’t give any aid to anyone but ourselves. That is what many conservatives think. I do think of computers as books and more than one person benefits, much like the book lockers we had in the old days. But this is a new age and we should let the PCVs take advantgage of the tools we have today. As for critical thinking, I’m not sure but what is learned on the many sites that a student can find on her or his computer is better than the ‘critical thinking’ of one person (even a PCV!) in the classroom.

    Also, I’m not suggesting that the Peace Corps Volunteer leave the room, but now that same teacher has the help of a tool that can open the world to a classroom of kids.

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