Eek! I'm a sexist. • 26 February 2008 • The SnowBlog

Eek! I'm a sexist.

That's the conclusion I'm coming to. If you have a few minutes, I think you might find this presentation by Mary Lou Jepsen enjoyable - not to say darned inspiring. It's maybe 50 mins, so here are the two minutes of edited highlights if you're short of time. Mary Lou is talking about her One Laptop Per Child project that I've blogged about before. And I find myself believing what she says and being impressed by her in a way I'd be reluctant to believe a man. Not that I wouldn't, but I'd need more proof. Maybe that's because guys demonstrably do have loads of testosterone in their bloodstream and so most of them can't help turn everything into a competition - at least the guys in charge of things. In fact the silliest example of this is the way most business leaders look at the way their corporations embody the cooperation of thousands of people towards a common goal, and what do they see? They see competition. That's the key to business. And yet without cooperation they'd be sitting at home giving the competition speech to their dogs. Anyway, I want women like Mary Lou Jepsen running the world, before competition means we don't have much of a world left. And I'm considering suggesting that Testosterone become a banned substance.
Snippets from Mary Lou's talk that I love: she talks about how these laptops can run on a huge variety of power sources. I have a shoe box full of power adaptors for phones, clocks and gadgets. I love the idea that I could grab any one of them and run an XO laptop. I love how the Open Source approach to software development always seems to beat what you can achieve if you spend lots of money. It's still not a well-known enough story and I really recommend the old classic book The Cathedral and The Bazaar if you have any interest in that side of things. Use volunteer geniuses, not paid ones, and share everything instead of hiding it, and your bugs get fixed in a tiny fraction of the time the best closed-organisations in the world can achieve and your ability to innovate, because of how ideas are offered up and spread, matches the best that's out there. Plus, on a more socialist note, Mary Lou shies away a couple of times from the topic, but if the only projects the human race will tackle are the ones that a private profit can be made from, we're all in so much trouble. We can't fix the environment unless companies can get rich off it. We can't help third-world kids get educated unless companies can get rich off it. But isn't the point of our capitalist economy to improve everyone's lives and to encourage progress? On the occasions when the profit motive actually stands in the way of higher living standards and new innovations, don't we have to find a way to fix that rather than just shrug and say, 'well, that's the free market for you'? Mary Lou hints at what Silicon Valley would be like if the thousands of engineers there were allowed to pool their ideas instead of being forbidden from doing so. I can't help thinking that if we all had rewarding, intellectually stimulating roles in morally exemplary projects as part of supportive communities - which is exactly what the OLPC project is - the fact that no one got stinking rich off it wouldn't seem that important. And, really, what would we need to be rich for if we had those things?


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