Last Summer I stayed for 2 weeks in a Local Village in Madagascar, on the island of Nosy Komba (literally "The Island of Monkeys"). There, a group of French Students from OLPC France and Stefano Palazzi manage to provide young students with laptops for educational purposes.
Those students live in small and creepy huts, do not wear shoes and cannot afford a pencil, but they own a laptop computer. Every one of them. We are talking of more than 200 computers that are worth approximately €40.000. What's the meaning of that? Isn't it better to give them shoes before giving them a computer?
I do not understand the Meaning of that yet, but – after my talks with Stefano and Jonathan (one of the French students) – I understood what is the Sense of that. As a Philosopher, what interests me is the underlying reason (and objective) of giving children something apparently superfluous even before they can have something really useful (i.e. shoes), not the action itself. I now call it the sense of that action, while the meaning is something more obscure related to what that action practically causes in the future of those children. Practically speaking, I would say
Sense = Reasons and Objectives
Meaning = Practical Results and Consequences
Nobody can predict the results, a Philosopher must study the reasons.
I thought that a Laptop is simply too much for those children. They do not even have electricity in their homes. Who needs a laptop if you cannot charge its battery? I was looking at the meaning. But then, I saw their eyes full of joy when they received that brown box with the icons of the OLPC project and I started looking at the (broader) Sense of it. For many of those children the brown box will be the most expensive gift they will ever get in their lives. But it is not only that. What they got, that day, was not simply a laptop. They got hope, a chance to change their lives, the symbol of human progress itself. AND a green laptop with wireless connectivity and a bunch of preinstalled programs.
The sense of giving those children that green laptop is putting them at the same level as any one of us, lucky Western People. We can use the computer to learn, to work and to improve our lives, socially. Now, those young children in Madagascar can, too.
By the way, I do not like the hardware of OLPC, I do not even like the software – which is a customized version of a Standard Linux Distribution - but I like the reasons and the objective of the project. Long Life to OLPC!