She Bets Her Life

A writer and former compulsive gambler reflects on women and addiction.

Obsession, I-Pads, South Park and Suicide

Our addiction with high-tech toys maims and kills others.

I don't own an I-Pad.  It hasn't been a particularly moral or political decision.  My work demands as uncluttered a life as I can manage.  I've listened to friends' ecstatic agony as they waited for the new I-Pad to come out.  I've watched entire families dining in silence as they gaze into their I-Pads.  I'm not tempted.  As with my decision to leave Facebook, the thought of owning an I-Pad makes me uneasy.  There is a pinch in my heart that I long ago learned to trust.

I knew my intuition has been correct when I read this morning's email from poet and teacher, Miriam Dyak.  She gave me permission to quote her: 

I went to see/hear Mike Daisey's newest monologue, "The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs." ...The audience was in waves of laughter over his all too familiar obsession with each next delicious toy that Apple brings out, his description of his own and others' supreme geekiness, his stories about the insane brilliance and brilliant insanity of Jobs, and irony upon irony of what we will willingly forgive this company in order to have all those amazing and beautiful apps and toys, everything we instantlyhave to have.

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But then interspersed with all of this, he stunned us with a story that was pure heroism, pure radical theater, pure social artistry. Daisey, a very rotund, not very tall, and pushing middle age white guy, had the amazing courage to travel to Shenzhen, China, and pose as a business man going to factory after factory pretending to want to do business with these folks in order to really understand where and how all our Apple products are made. After seeing the inside of factories, seeing the dormitories, he also took the risk of meeting clandestinely with members of secret unions. If he had been found out to be an artist, a journalist, he could easily have been imprisoned, perhaps killed. Those who spoke with him would have disappeared.

Never heard of Shenzhen? Or maybe it rings a vague bell? City of 14 million people (almost twice the size of New York City) with no history - it's only been there 30 years. Nobody really visits there unless they have business there. All that's there are factories - factories where they make everything you and I use, or at least half of everything we use. (Oh, and by the way, if you're a PC person, they probably make all the parts for those there too.)

And the way they make these things? Here are just a few of the images that stuck with me from last night. People working 12, 14, 15, 16 hour shifts with almost no breaks. All our iPods and iPhones and iPads are made (along with many other items) in a factory with over 450,000 employees (including many children as young as 12, 14) with 25 cafeterias that each seat 10,000, but lunch is so short many don't make it. People there are doing repetitive movements for so long that they are resulting in physical conditions no one has seen before. People standing so long their spines are fusing. People with permanent nerve damage from chemicals. I also remember the images of the dormitories. 10x10 ft rooms with "bunks" stacked 5 or 6 high crisscrossing over each other. The space is so narrow they have to slide in and no one can turn over in their sleep. And these are good jobs that people want.

Well, or did, till the iPhone 4 came along. Jobs, who has a very long history of getting as much as he can for as little as possible, squeezed the company so hard on that one that they ended up making it at cost! They didn't want to lose the rest of Apple's business on the iPods or the iPads, so they pushed all the workers as hard as they could to work as fast as possible. That's when there was an epidemic of people making their way to the top of the buildings and jumping to their deaths. The factory put up nets on the outside walls, but still people who fell into the nets could crawl out of the nets and jump the rest of the way. And they did.

At the end of his time there when Daisey met some of the workers in the secret, illegal unions, he met a man whose hand had been crushed in the machinery working in the factory that makes iPads. The company gave him nothing, no medical care, and then fired him because he was too slow on the assembly line with a crushed hand. Daisey pulled out his iPad to show this man, turned it on, let him try it out. The man was entranced, swiping his injured hand back and forth across the screen, watching all the icons move and light up. "It's magic!" he said. No one at the factory had ever seen a finished iPad or seen one work. "Yes, it is magic," Daisey answered through his courageous translator who had risked a great deal to see him through this whole journey.

And that's the irony Daisey left us with last night. He said, "Don't think about boycotts! They never change anything." BUT... even though Jobs blew off 
Greenpeace for a long time, they eventually succeeded in getting Apple to go a little bit greener, to stop putting totally toxic materials in all their products. They're actually quite proud now of how environmental they've become, even though it's still just a start. Daisey looked at us and (I'll paraphrase) said, "Now you know. In the course of the evening you've been infected with knowledge, and now they need to hear from you. They need to know that you know. E-mail <sjobs@apple.com>. You won't be able to get it out of your mind."

*******

Where does South Park come in?  Follow Kyle and Stan as they penetrate into the necrotic heart of Walmart and discover the well-spring of the Godzilla-corporation's power.  http://www.southparkstudios.com/clips/104412

Where do you come in?  Where do I?  How have we helped built Shenzhen?  How can we bear to live with it and do nothing?  

 

Mary Sojourner, M.A., is the author of She Bets Her Life: A True Story of Gambling Addiction (Seal Press/ April 2010) and Going Through Ghosts (U.Nevada Press, 2010).

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