The Charisma Machine to Receive 2020 Best Information Science Book Award
The Association for Information Science & Technology (ASIS&T) is delighted to announce that The Charisma Machine: The Life, Death, and Legacy of One Laptop per Childwritten by Morgan Ames of the University of California, Berkeley and published by MIT Press is the recipient of the ASIS&T Best Information Science Book Award for 2020. The award’s purpose is to recognize the outstanding book in information science published during the preceding calendar year. The award is given to the author(s) whose book is judged to have made the most outstanding contribution in the field of information science during the year.
In The Charisma Machine, Morgan Ames chronicles the life and legacy of the One Laptop per Child project and explains why—despite its failures—the same utopian visions that inspired OLPC still motivate other projects trying to use technology to “disrupt” education and development. Announced in 2005 by MIT Media Lab cofounder Nicholas Negroponte, One Laptop per Child promised to transform the lives of children across the Global South with a small, sturdy, and cheap laptop computer, powered by a hand crank. In reality, the project fell short in many ways—starting with the hand crank, which never materialized. Yet the project remained charismatic to many who were captivated by its claims of access to educational opportunities previously out of reach.
Behind its promises, OLPC, like many technology projects that make similarly grand claims, had a fundamentally flawed vision of who the computer was made for and what role technology should play in learning. Drawing on fifty years of history and a seven-month study of a model OLPC project in Paraguay, Ames reveals that the laptops were not only frustrating to use, easy to break, and hard to repair, they were designed for “technically precocious boys”—idealized younger versions of the developers themselves—rather than the children who were actually using them. The Charisma Machine offers a cautionary tale about the allure of technology hype and the problems that result when utopian dreams drive technology development.
Ames is an assistant adjunct professor in the School of Information at the University of California, Berkeley, where she teaches in Data Science and administers the Designated Emphasis in Science and Technology Studies in affiliation with the Center for Science, Technology, Medicine and Society. She is also affiliated with the Algorithmic Fairness and Opacity Working Group, the Center for Science, Technology, Society and Policy, and the Berkeley Institute of Data Science.
Upon learning of her book’s selection as the 2020 Best Information Science Book winner, Ames said, “I want to extend my deep gratitude to the ASIS&T book award committee for their work during these extraordinary times, as well as to the Information Science community for being such a wonderful intellectual home.”
Ames will receive her award at the 2020 meeting of the Association for Information Science & Technology (ASIS&T) which will be held October 23-29, 2020.