Accidental appropriate technologies
#1: The Amazon Kindle
While growing numbers of people in the development sector get increasingly excited at the potential of tablet computing for health, agriculture, education and other development activities, it’s the Amazon Kindle that’s been exciting me recently. The irony is, without really trying, Amazon have built something which more closely resembles an appropriate technology than other organisations who have specifically gone out to try and build one.
So, what makes the Kindle so special?
- It’s light, relatively rugged, and mobile
- Ten days reading time on one charge
- One month ‘standby’ time between charges
- Solar panel cover option removes the need for mains charging
- Built-in dictionary and thesaurus
- Display can be read in bright sunlight
- Internal storage for up to 200 books
- No need for the Internet once books are loaded
- Text-to-speech for illiterate/semi-literate users
- Costs continue to come down
- Remote delivery of books and materials (local wi-fi permitting)
Of course, I’m not the first person to notice this. A year or two ago the highlight of an ICT4D conference I attended was a short video showing children in West Africa using Amazon Kindles. I’ll never forget how they interacted with the devices, and what having access to one meant to them and their hopes of an education. Not many technologies give us these little glimpses of magic.
Imagine, all the books a child would ever need to see them through their basic education, all packed into a ~$100 device.
The people behind that video were from Worldreader.org, an organisation whose mission is to “make digital books available to all in the developing world, enabling millions of people to improve their lives”.
We often say in mobiles-for-development that today most people in the developing world will make their first phone call on a mobile, and have their first experience of the Internet on one, too. Perhaps children, in the not-too-distant future, will have their first experience of reading on an e-reader?