The chances that Nicholas Negroponte‘s awesome One Laptop Per Child Project (OLPC, aka the 100$ Laptop project) offer for education are pretty obvious: Where there’s access to knowledge, there’s a better chance to get educated. It sort of levels the playing field, to some degree or another.
But with the capacity of those laptops to instantly and automatically create a massive mesh network, just imagine what else can be done with it. Those machines are by definition able to talk to each other directly. Now that’s pretty amazing just by itself, or combined with email, or the web as a means of collaboration.
Just imagine what happens with a simple nearly-real time communication tool that broadcasts to your whole social network, just like Twitter can? (Twitter is just one example. Of course, it could be anything similar service as well. But let’s stick with it for the time being.) Something that’s so simple from a user interface point of view that the simple graphics card in those laptops can deal with it, but as powerful as a tool to enable conversations. If China or other authoritarian regimes are going to order some of those machines (or one per child, as the project’s name implies), just what’s going to happen? There’s no way to control this amount of data and information. Plus, the social aspects, i.e. the feeling of community, are so strong that it should help adapt people very, very easily to the new technology: Hey, I’m just talking to my friends, right? Oh, wait, some of them are 150km away? So what?
I would imagine there’s amazing potential to strengthen (maybe even create) communities beyond town and district borders, but also for spontaneous information distribution: Think flash mobs (errr.. twittermobs), medical assistance, or citizen journalism. I don’t even want to think about it! (Well, yes, I do.)