Exploring the borders of computing
News.com's Ina Fried is headed this week to Miami and Latin America as part of a look at efforts to broaden computer use in emerging markets.
Over the next two weeks, I'll be traveling to Miami and Latin America to look at both the power and limits of computing. In Miami, at Microsoft's Government Leaders Forum, I'll get to hear from politicians and technologists about the role they envision for computing in emerging markets. I'll travel to a local senior center, hear from Bill Gates, and try to hear firsthand from those working throughout Latin America to broaden access to technology.
In Brazil, I'll be seeing a country that is the world's fifth-largest PC market. It is a country with an entrepreneurial spirit and a thirst for homegrown technology. It is a major area of interest for American tech giants like Microsoft and Intel. It's also a place where the divide between rich and poor is both extreme and highly visible.
I'll check out a computing effort in one of the country's poorest neighborhoods and check in on the country's largest One-to-One computing program--a project backed by Intel and Microsoft. I'll also have my eyes peeled to see the role Linux is playing in the day-to-day computing experience there.
In Colombia, I will look at how computing is being used as a tool to try to heal from decades of civil war--a war which has not yet ended and continues to create new victims. While there, I plan to visit various projects to provide computer skills to those disabled by land mines, an Internet cafe, and an IT training center where farm workers gain computing training as part of an effort to keep them from joining the armed conflict.
For years, I've been hearing and writing about computing programs aimed at bringing technology to people who have yet to experience the power of the PC. It can be hard to evaluate these programs from afar. I hope through this trip to get a better sense of how some of these programs are working, what needs remain unfilled, and where technology could be doing more.
Writing about emerging markets (and particularly spending considerable time and money to do so) can be a tough sell. I believe, though, that such efforts are vitally important. In the United States, the PC market is largely saturated. Most people have a PC (or more than one), so computer makers face slow growth if they focus only on mature markets.
In places like China, India, and Russia, as well as places closer to home, many people have yet to own a PC and may just be getting their first opportunity through programs that we hear about from time to time--things like Intel's Classmate PC, Microsoft's Unlimited Potential program, and Nicholas Negroponte's One Laptop Per Child effort.
Such programs are of interest not just because they provide growth markets for U.S. companies; technology developed for these new markets is actually helping to shape the products that are sold here. In thinking about PCs for the U.S. market, computer makers often churn out more of the same, with machines that are ever more powerful, but roughly similar in size and other limitations.
But by focusing on these new markets, companies have helped discover other things that could change the game for technology enthusiasts here. It's led to a rethinking of how things should be designed in the first place, in some cases improving user interfaces and in others leading to whole new types of products.
My goal is to write about the big issues and to tell the stories of the many people I meet along the way. I know it's a unique opportunity and will try to take you along in as many ways as possible--through stories, photos, and video. Some of that work will post in near-real-time (or whenever I can find connectivity), while I'll no doubt have more to say once I return.
For those who want to keep up to date, I'll be tagging all of my posts from the trip with the label "Borders of Computing," so you can just click this link to get the latest posts. Or, as always, subscribe to Beyond Binary by clicking on one of the links to the right.