I had the good fortune of seeing “The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs” at Seattle Repertory Theater recently. It’s a one-person show by Mike Daisey. Mike has been the sort of Apple computer fanboy that would disassemble his MacBook into nine pieces, clean it, and reassemble it, just because it was calming and because he admired the engineering. He speaks engagingly and hilariously about techno-lust, particularly for Apple products.
He also tells the history of Apple in a very funny and enjoyable way. But there’s something that lifts the show above simple geekery. Half of his story (and he’s a terrific story teller) is about his trip to China and the city of Shenzhen (which he says looks like a “Bladerunner” world that has thrown up on itself). That’s where the Foxconn factories are and where half the world’s consumer electronics are made.
Daisey poses as a businessperson to get himself inside the factories where Apple products are made. He also interviews workers outside the factory. He comes away with horrific tales of people working 18-hour shifts, forced to stand until they are practically crippled. And 12-year-olds working the assembly lines. Very few machines exist in these quiet factories where talking is not allowed. Everything is assembled by hand because labor is so very cheap. Workers sleep packed in bunkers under the eye of ever-present cameras.
It’s disturbing and deservedly so. How do we react? Do we stop buying electronics? CorpWatch might have some suggestions. Daisey didn’t mention this group, I just found them with a quick Web search.
One more thing…in the back lobby of the Rep they have a display of Apple computers, from the very first, through the Lisa, the Mac Plus, etc. up though the 80s or 90s. There’s a Newton and a few iPods as well.