Recycling Computers for Social Change

Salon writes about how anti-globalization activists in Oakland, Calif., are recycling old machines, loading them with free software and shipping them off to Ecuador:

The software part of the project is less hit-and-miss than the hardware. The activists are using Mandrake Linux with installation scripts provided by Free Geek, which makes the whole thing rather foolproof — it’s the kind of pop-in-a-CD, point-and-click thing a 10-year-old could do. Or a 60-year-old, for that matter. The average volunteer can build about 10 computers in a day, Henshaw-Plath says; people with lots of experience and some luck can build as many as 25.

If you just look at their specifications, the systems the activists are building here seem almost worthless, Pentium 100-class machines with about a gigabyte of hard drive space and 80 megs of RAM. The sort of computer that went for thousands in 1996, but that wouldn’t fetch $50 on eBay today.

But if you wipe Windows off these systems and replace it with a Linux-based operating system, and if you just plan to use them for the Web and e-mail, they can be quite useful, says Henshaw-Plath.

In the remote villages of South America, “all they need computers for is communication,” says Henshaw-Plath. “They’ll use it mostly for e-mail — and it’s not e-mailing someone far off, it’s just someone in the next village. They only need some way to communicate between the two of them that will allow them to coordinate and articulate strategies for social change.”

The recycling of old computers from the developed world to the developing world will great the next big opportunities for technology.


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Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.