Design for reuse... Answered
The "1st world" (that would be us) is infamous for its rampant and wasteful consumerism. Buy an electronic gadget with N times the power of the OLPC machine, then throw it away after two years (incidentally filling landfills with all sorts of questionable stuff.) Meanwhile, other parts of the world starve for technology.
Do you think it would be possible to SLIGHTLY modify the design of 1st world consumer products to make it easier to reuse them (or parts of them) in devices conceptually similar to OLPC? I mean, consider the cell phone. Modern cell phones have cameras, flash card sockets, relatively high-res (but tiny) displays, relatively high-quality sound capability, low power consumption in standby mode, and radio based networking capabilities. It seems pretty close to an OLPC device to me (tell me an Apple iPhone wouldn't be an adequate replacement for an OLPC...)
Why can't "we" convince a cell phone manufacturer to design the internals such that when the phones original life is over, it's guts can get a larger display and keyboard and new software, and become someone's computer or eReader. People are willing to donate their old phones to assorted worthy causes now; they might even be convinced to pay an extra $10 to purchase a phone that is MORE reusable. (or is it more expensive to do this sort of "refurbishment" than to build brand new machines?) Now that wireless headsets are common, it's not even necessary for a cellphone to retain a "phone-like" size and shape. Can I have a paperback sized combination cell phone and eBook reader that will have a second life as "just an eBook reader"?
What would it take to make a cellphone reusable as the core of a general purpose computer?
1) extend and standardize display interface to allow page-sized display.
2) extend and standardize keypad interface to allow keyboard (?)
3) internal software nearly completely replacible with a general purpose OS.
4) inappropriate radio functions capable of being removed, disabled, or converted to more appropriate functions (ad-hoc wireless networking)
Some of those seem like things manufacturers would be doing anyway, just to reduce their own costs. Creating a reusable cellphone core may be more a matter of documentation than anything else (and politics. Not that either is easy.)
Next, what other electronic devices do you have that you're likely to be done with before they break? An MP3 player could use the same standardized display link and reprogramability as cell phones. Your LCD monitor could implement the other half (old cell phone plus old monitor = general purpose computer?) I don't think there's enough standardization in the desktop computers to reuse them; their complexity makes reuse too administratively complex, and they're probably too power-hungry anyway.
The "maker" community already spends a fair amount of effort reusing "appliances" as general purpose compute engines; usually "improving" the product in its original application space, or getting cheap cycles from a product that failed and is being sold off cheap. Creating intentionally reusable electronics would feed that community some, but it isn't big enough to absorb ALL the discards of our quick-moving society. A lot could be funneled into putting technology where it couldn't afford to be before.
(some quick Google use says:
In the US, we throw away over 400,000 cell phones PER DAY link
In Europe, 27% of mobile phone user buy a new phone every year link; only 5% of the old phones are recycled.
Overall, less than 1% of cell phones are recycled. link; cell phone sales are expected to exceed 1 billion per year by 2009.
(I pick primarilly on cell phones because they seem SO CLOSE to being a general purpose computer, AND small enough to possibly incorporate into a larger "second life" product.)