What is Big Think?  

We are Big Idea Hunters…

We live in a time of information abundance, which far too many of us see as information overload. With the sum total of human knowledge, past and present, at our fingertips, we’re faced with a crisis of attention: which ideas should we engage with, and why? Big Think is an evolving roadmap to the best thinking on the planet — the ideas that can help you think flexibly and act decisively in a multivariate world.

A word about Big Ideas and Themes — The architecture of Big Think

Big ideas are lenses for envisioning the future. Every article and video on bigthink.com and on our learning platforms is based on an emerging “big idea” that is significant, widely relevant, and actionable. We’re sifting the noise for the questions and insights that have the power to change all of our lives, for decades to come. For example, reverse-engineering is a big idea in that the concept is increasingly useful across multiple disciplines, from education to nanotechnology.

Themes are the seven broad umbrellas under which we organize the hundreds of big ideas that populate Big Think. They include New World Order, Earth and Beyond, 21st Century Living, Going Mental, Extreme Biology, Power and Influence, and Inventing the Future.

Big Think Features:

12,000+ Expert Videos


Browse videos featuring experts across a wide range of disciplines, from personal health to business leadership to neuroscience.

Watch videos

World Renowned Bloggers


Big Think’s contributors offer expert analysis of the big ideas behind the news.

Go to blogs

Big Think Edge


Big Think’s Edge learning platform for career mentorship and professional development provides engaging and actionable courses delivered by the people who are shaping our future.

Find out more

No Instructions, No School, No Electricity? No Problem. These Illiterate Ethiopian Kids Mastered Xoom Tablets In a Few Days

November 3, 2012, 7:53 AM

How much infrastructure and training do children need to use a laptop or a tablet? Do they need, for example, schools and teachers? Do they need to have seen computers in a movie or picture, if not in person? Do they need to know how to read? In one recent experiment, the answer to all these questions was "no." The researchers dropped Xoom tablets, in sealed boxes, into two Ethiopian villages where no one could read. Within days, village children were running the devices and using apps. Before five months were out, they'd hacked Android on one device to get its camera working.

The experiment was run by the One Laptop Per Child Foundation, whose goal is to provide the world's poor kids with suitable (low cost, low-power, rugged) laptops. Given their goals, they wanted to see what kids in a poor Third World village would make of high-tech hardware. As Harry Slater reports here, the two villages they chose, Wonchi and Wolonchete, had never seen so much as a road sign or a package with written instructions. The tablets were left in taped-shut boxes, with no instructions. Village adults were shown how to plug them into solar chargers, and once a week a researcher would swap out the tablets' SIM cards so they could examine how they had been used.

A few days ago, OLPC's founder, Nicholas Negroponte, gave a talk describing the results.

"Within five days, [the children] were using 47 apps per child per day," he said, according to Slater. "Within two weeks, they were singing ABC songs [in English] in the village. And within five months, they had hacked Android. Some idiot in our organisation or in the Media Lab had disabled the camera! And they figured out it had a camera, and they hacked Android." Another OLPC official pointed out in addition that the kids had also customized all the tablet desktops, so that each looked different. To do so, they had to get round software designed to prevent just this move.

What does this mean? Firstly, I suppose, that the last few decades of human-computer interface design got things right. The visual metaphors they have used do seem, on this evidence, to be independent of a lot of cultural cues. Secondly, it might mean, as the OLPC likes to claim, that it's a good idea to just drop computers in the laps of poor children around the world, without waiting for governments to build schools, train teachers, print textbooks and otherwise get their act together.

Thanks to Alexandre Berreby for the tip.

Are you reading this in an area recovering from the effects of Sandy? If so, please lend a hand. For information on what you can do to help, click here.

Follow me on Twitter: @davidberreby


No Instructions, No School,...

Newsletter: Share: