January 12, 2012

From Gerald R. Lucas

Our Gadget Complicity

I have rarely been so engrossed in something that I lose touch with where I am physically. And this is not a good idea when you’re driving. Yet, last night’s This American Life featured a show about the working conditions in China that are a direct consequence of our—the West’s—need for gadgets. And while one company alone is not to blame, this show examines Apple’s relationship with Foxconn. Mr. Daisey provides a unique look into a world that most of us would probably much rather not have to look at.

What struck me first is Daisey’s description of himself as an Apple Fanboy. Most of how he describes himself Geeking out to Apple fan sites and the loving attentions he bestows on his Apple hardware reminds me much of myself. However, I posit, perhaps naively, that I can have a critical eye toward Apple—this position does not mean that I don’t own most of their gadgets.

Yet, after listening to Daisey’s experiences in Shenzhen and Foxconn City, any Westerner with a conscience would have to question his or her use of gadgets that negatively affect the lives of hundreds of thousands of impoverished Chinese citizens—some likely underaged. Is an iPad or iPhone so important to my life that I’m willing to condone what amounts to slavery in the twenty-first century?

At least that’s what I thought after listening to part one of the program. After Daisey’s 40-minute narrative, I found myself still in my car; I had made it home, turned off the engine, and was sitting in a dark garage. I went inside to listen to act two.

This part provides a step back from Dasiey’s narrative—some analysis and fact checking. While there were some mitigating perspectives and evidence, the fact still remains that our tech that has become so ingrained in our lives is made in sweatshops.

Why is this the case? Really? Why don’t we make our own fetishized tech right here in the US? I know it would be more expensive—our gadgets would likely double in cost—but isn’t that the right thing to do? Should we, as one of the commentators suggests, just accept the grim realities for Foxconn workers as the growing pains of a nascent capitalist economy?

Is it really that easy?