By Henry Jenkins
Explain the book’s title. In what sense was the One Laptop Per Child “a Charisma Machine”? What are the implications of applying a term like Charisma, which has historically been so closely associated with the qualities of human leaders, to talk about technologies?
When I first started following the One Laptop per Child project way back in 2008, I was fascinated by how alluring the project's “XO” laptop seemed to be for many contributors and others across the tech industry. OLPC had very ambitious ideas for how its laptop should be used by children across the Global South, and what the results would be — and I found that the laptop itself came to stand for those ideas for many people. I started thinking about how the laptop began to have its own kind of authority in these circles: even mentioning it came to stand in for a particular kind of joyful, technically deep experience they wanted more children to have with computers.
I turned to sociological theory to help make sense of this, going all the way back to one of the founders of modern sociology — Max Weber — who outlined and described different kinds of authority. Charismatic authority is something that religious or cult leaders may have — they may not have the weight of an institution like the government behind them, or the weight of tradition to lean on, yet they still seem to command a following...
Morgan G. Ames is an assistant adjunct professor in the School of Information and interim associate director of research for the Center for Science, Technology, Medicine and Society at the University of California, Berkeley. 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. She is a MIMS 2006 alumna.