Simputers - new, simple, Linux-based handheld computers that work in places without electrical or telephone grids and can be used by the illiterate (PDF) - are a hot project right now, and rightfully so: as this NYT article points out, in an ever-more-globalized world, access to information is a life-and-death proposition for the poor.
"TIHI, India At least once a day in this village of 2,500 people, Ravi Sham Choudhry turns on the computer in his front room and logs in to the Web site of the Chicago Board of Trade.
"He has the dirt of a farmer under his fingernails and pecks slowly at the keys. But he knows what he wants: the prices for soybean commodity futures.
"A drop in prices on the Chicago Board, shown in red, could augur a drop in prices here, meaning that he and fellow soybean farmers should sell their crop now. An increase there argues that the farmers should wait for prices to rise.
"If it goes up there, it goes up here," Mr. Choudhry said. The correlation is rough but real. Real, too, is the link between farmers in rural central India and around the globe, thanks to a company's innovation.
"The concept is the e-choupal, taken from the Hindi word for village square, or gathering place. The twist is the "e": providing a computer and Internet connections for farmers to gather around. ...
"Nonprofit organizations have tried similar initiatives but none have achieved anywhere near the scale that e-choupals have. There are now 1,700 in this state, Madhya Pradesh, and 3,000 total in India. They are serving 18,000 villages, reaching up to 1.8 million farmers."
The effort the Times profiles has a bunch of shortcomings. But, if anything, the Times piece actually downplays the simputer's true implications. Keeping ahead of global commodity fluctuations is just one simputer use. Other projects involve remote medical services, teaching literacy, access to Open Source Textbooks, village banking, international VOIP (essentially making telephone calls over the Internet, free of charge) and virtual remitances (so that poor people with families in other countries can keep in touch and wire money), as well as making possible or easier all manner of collaboration and collective action.
The spread of simputers is phenomenal. Also revolutionary. Keep an eye on this one.
Actually, Simputers (Simputer.org) have been around for almost 4 years. Of note - the entire system is open, and it can be built by ANYONE without licensing.
Toss in GNU/Linux... great match. :)
use of SIMPUTERs for peer-peer & cluster environment ?