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    Horse, Buggy, Laptop.

    Written by

    Brian Merchant

    Senior Editor

    Image: imgur

    This striking photo rose to the top of Reddit's Cyberpunk thread, and it's not hard to see why—it embodies the 'high tech/low life' dichotomy that underpins that genre's ethos and aesthetic. The image depicts a young Argentine, sitting in a horse and cart filled with salvaged materials, tapping away on a laptop. 

    The computer is evidently a Classmate PC, which uses a version of Linux for its operating system. As Reddit user HomerSlumpsun points out, these machines are distributed to lower-income Argentineans as part of a program called 'Connect Equality.' The program is an initiative launched by the populist President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner and, according to its charter (translated from Spanish), Connect Equality is "focused on recovering and enhancing public education in order to reduce the digital, educational and social gaps in Argentina."

    Similar initiatives have been implemented elsewhere in the past. 'One laptop per child' programs, you'll recall, were instituted in places as disparate as Kenya, Peru, and Maine. That idea is now often regarded as a failure, because its stated aim was to help disadvantaged youth use computers to boost test scores. And whenever educators test OLPC recipients alongside the laptop-less youth, there's little difference between the results.

    Which only underlines the cyberpunk lesson here. If the genre teaches us anything, it's that advances in technology don't solve problems alone; they often introduce new disparities and exacerbate the social divides within existing institutions (See: Diamond Age, Neuromancer, etc.). You can't just give kids laptops and assume they'll become smarter and richer. Kircher's Connect program seems to be differently positioned than the OLPC, though—it's more of a social program than an education initiative. Everyone should have access to a laptop because they're integral to modern life; not because they'll raise scores on some standardized test.

    Either way, this is what much of the world looks like. With smart phones instead of laptops, maybe, but that's basically the gist. More people have access to cell phones than running water in Africa, etc. Access to tech is growing fast, but for over half the world, access to dependable infrastructure and energy isn't. This image is striking, but it isn't all that rare. We're firmly upon the age of the real-world cyberpunk dystopia we were promised in the 90s.