How I found myself feeling morally superior to iPad and iPhone owners

by Michael S. Kaplan, published on 2011/04/25 07:11 -04:00, original URI:

For info on what happened the next day and the day after, see From Bunnarchy with Santa and Jessica Rabbit to Anime Unleashed, published minutes ago.


I went to see The Agony And The Ecstasy of Steve Jobs with the Crew at the Seattle Repertory Theater.

Oh. My. God.

This show blew me away. Completely.

As Scott Weaver mentioned after the show: it wasn't really a play.

He is technically right. This 1 hour and 43 minute monologue by self-identified Apple Fan Boy Mike Daisey with no intermission was not a play.

But it was theater, and it was drama.

It did not bring Apple co-founder Steve "Woz" Wozniak to tears because he had something in his eyes.

This dramatic rendering of a situation that should shock anyone with a soul and make any person who uses modern technology (Apple or not) look at that technology different from the time they see the play and into the forseeable future.

And now I look at my Dell Latitude E6500 (not a MacBookPro) and my HTC Arrive (not an iPhone) and my previous Palm Pre (also not an iPhone) and my Motion LE1600 Tablet (not an iPad) and my Zune (not an iPod), I realized something:

By and large these are devices that are older and have not been upgraded since they were bought (the one exception there is the HTC Arrive which is a Windows Phone 7 device that is Microsoft subsidized or will be if I turn in the receipts in time). I do have a MacBookPro which is the one Apple product I have, and in the last 12 months it has been booted into OS X fewer than five times -- I know this because of how many updates I am asked to install when it does get booted that way rather than into Windows 7 via BootCamp.

I like all of them.

But I can't say I love any of them the way that people talk about how much they love their iPhones or their iPads.

They are just tools to get stuff done.

I don't upgrade them because they get the job done. So I don't care that Dell has faster laptops no or that the tablet is out of warranty and doesn't have cool touch technology like an iPad or that I don't fawn over how I love the phone the way some of my friends talk about their iPhones.

I look at all of these devices differently than the way people who love their Apple products look at their Mac* and i* counterparts.

Because of this, though I do feel some sense of responsibility and some shame for my own part in the engineered human rights issues in Shenzhen and at Foxconn, I can say that at least I never lovingly stroked the pain of other human beings the way so many iPod and iPhone and iPad users have.

Scott and I were talking after Mike Daisey's amazing monologue (as I mentioned), and while my thoughts had still not fully formed (seeing it all is like an unexpected body blow that knocks you over wondering how on Earth he did it), I argued that we really ought to be doing something differently. After ten minutes of arguing how anything we do would cripple American business he stopped himself, largely because he didn't enjoy talking like a Republican!) and I continued talking with Scott's mom, who tried to draw out my opinions a bit because she seemed genuinely interested in understanding a little more about someone who was looking at the situation as something that had to change.rather than as something we were powerless to do anything about.

She mis-guessed my age though admitted it was what she called my "idealism" that led to the error. :-)

But really, I think something has to change. Mike Daisey's letter that we were given as we left the theater (click to see larger, or better yet see The Agony And The Ecstasy of Steve Jobs and get your own copy afterward -- that is how you will know what I am going on about!):

What Happens Next, by Mike Daisey

Something has to be done. And even though (as I said) I feel a slight moral superiority to those who are a part of that cult of constant upgrade and pleasure of their devices, I still feel responsible for my own contribution to the problem.

A problem largely caused by all of us, by the generations that came after our own industrial revolution as our own companies bought billions worth of stuff from those who took the Special Economic Zone that is Shenzhen and companies like Foxxconn and made them into what they are.

More directly, Foxxconn recently reported that their owner's revenue was up 26% in February thanks to the iPad 2 and the Kinect. Okay, I get no personal pleasure from the Kinect, as I mentioned in The bizarre variation of a skeleton that is iBot + me, to a Kinect. Though I did say I thought the feature was cool. Thus I was a little more involved here than I even realized even I had to pan it personally since I can't use it.

Note to Microsoft Employees: the Kinect has much that comes from FoxxConn; we're on the hook here too. If Apple doesn't want to be the market leader that Mike Daisey imagines, maybe Microsoft should step up here and be clear that they are not really wanting the pleasure of those playing with a Kinect to be on the backs of the people working and living in tremendously bad conditions at FoxxConn, and in Shenzhen.

Now I don't want a Kinect, just like I don't ever plan to want the iPad I didn't want anyway. I couldn't play a game knowing the people who put the cool device together have neither worker's compensation for injury nor disability, that people as young as 12 are working longer days than the most diehard Microsoft employee so that we can enjoy Dance Studio and the like.

The future me that was going have the opportunity to be excited about a better Kinect has just suffered a mortal wound that may never heal.

You love your iPad you just upgraded to? Thank some person you don't know with a crippled hand due to lack of worker's compensation (who was fired afterward) or some 13 year old who never gets to go to school who worked a 14 hour day you don't know an so on, all of whom worked so you could get your iPad 2 to you as soon as possible. I wonder if you love them too. Funny way of showing it.

But riddle me this -- I wonder how will you feel the next time you use it. I wonder how you feel if you are reading this blog on that iPad right now.

So I'm not as bad as the iPad/iPhone people?

I really don't give a *** if I'm not.

I need to do better here.

So does Apple.

So does Microsoft.

So do we all.

John Cowan on 25 Apr 2011 9:24 AM:

The Wikipedia article "Foxconn suicides" at has this paragraph:

Deciding a response necessary [to the 18 suicide attempts by workers, 14 successful, in 2010], Foxconn substantially increased wages for its southern China workforce, installed suicide-prevention netting [most of the deaths were due to jumping off a building], and asked employees to sign no-suicide pledges.


Michael S. Kaplan on 25 Apr 2011 9:32 AM:

I suspect the company is watching that page carefully.

Notice how the play is not referenced at all? I wonder how long that will be....

Otaku on 25 Apr 2011 10:23 AM:

Facinating. As much as I despise the cult of Apple and the insolence of MSFT, I am surprised that this is becoming an issue because of one or both of these companies.

Michael S. Kaplan on 25 Apr 2011 11:58 AM:

In case there was any doubt that corporations control the media? Geez, that's like a gruesome uber-conspiracy theory. :-(

Microsoft bad taste wins again on 26 Apr 2011 6:36 AM:

Mobile phones all get upgraded. Only the very poor keep using crappy old phones. An iPhone is a mobile phone. iPhones get upgraded.

There’s been exactly one upgrade of the iPad since its launch.

Meanwhile, ask any Macintosh user of any reasonable duration how long their Macs last. Ask Grant Hutchinson specifically.

Your contention that Apple users, who you admit have the advantage of actually loving their products instead of struggling with them like some kind of engineer, promiscuously “upgrade” their products, thereby causing more misery for Chinese workers, wouldn’t pass muster in junior high.

We like what you do with and for Unicode. But you have Microsoft-calibre bad taste. Actually, the only counterexample seems to be your iBot.

jmdesp on 26 Apr 2011 6:44 AM:

I'm quite uneasy about this focussing on Apple and Foxconn. I believe almost 100% of electronic, clothing and shoes companies rely on cheap chinese labor that has no better living condition than the people of Foxconn.

If this is an effective way to make the bad working condition in China better known, good.

If it becomes I'm happy I don't buy Apple, but some other compagny, that actually uses products produced in an even worse environment, and will be much harder than Apple to shame into improving it, it's not any good actually.

And does it help anybody to buy less Apple products ? (except *specifically* as part of an effort to shame them into making the situation better). Step by step the chinese situation is improving. Foxconn did increase salaries by 30%, and as the economy of China develops workers are starting to have a choice and leave the worst employers. It seems to me that less buying would mean less jobs and a worse situation alltogether.

Michael S. Kaplan on 26 Apr 2011 1:11 PM:

Have you seen the show?

TamFos on 3 May 2011 1:38 PM:

In the news today:

Sure hope MSFT is treading carefully with their hardware manufacturing...

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