Six months earlier, the 22-year-old had moved to Chengdu, in southwest China, to become one of the millions of human cogs powering the largest, fastest and most sophisticated manufacturing system on earth. That system has made it possible for Apple and hundreds of other companies to build devices almost as quickly as they can be dreamed up.
“He’s in trouble,” the caller told Mr. Lai’s father. “Get to the hospital as soon as possible.”
In the last decade, Apple has become one of the mightiest, richest and most successful companies in the world, in part by mastering global manufacturing. Apple and its high-technology peers — as well as dozens of other American industries — have achieved a pace of innovation nearly unmatched in modern history.
Let’s start with the acknowledgement that I love my iPhone, and I kinda want an iPad, and they’re pretty and I find they work for me, and blah blah blah.
But. But. With that love comes a discomfort about what goes into my iPhone and me being able to afford it. I’ve been being itched by this since listening to the recent This American Life episode, Mr Daisey and the Apple Factory. Now, I know that this is true of pretty much every piece of technology, and I know that Apple gets picked up on a lot for this because it makes the most famous tech and the most money. But it also does that in part by selling an aura of superiority – which makes it a much more appealing target than other companies. And frankly I think it ought to be challenged on those grounds too – but I am aware that this is because Mac evangelists drive me up the frickin’ wall.
So here’s a thing – I think if you’re aware of all of this stuff (about Apple and about other tech) and still choose to buy it, that’s ok. That’s your choice. But I’d like you to be able to explain it to me, and for me to be able to explain it to myself. You (and I) need to own that choice.
But I want to ask some questions of myself: would I be willing to pay £50 more for my phone, if that was something that went to making working conditions better for the people who make it (yes)? If Apple (or whoever) don’t give me that choice – what can I do to make them give me that choice? I could stop buying any tech (but I alone probably won’t make a difference – but then, that’s what every one person says, right) – I could petition Apple to make conditions better. I could buy something other than Apple (definitely an option). If I were a visually creative type, I’d probably more inclined to go Apple – in which case, I’d want to ask at what point does my commitment to trying to make the world a better place clash with the work I’d be doing with my Mac to do it. When do I say, I’ll work slower and it’ll be more painful, but I’ll try and work with tech that is the most ‘fair’? I’m still working through this and making my mind up (but I get to feel ok about the fact I’m thinking about it, right? my insufferable western privilege goes that far, right?)
‘Cause this is something that’s been itching at me of late – if we want the world to be fairer we have to be willing to be personally inconvenienced, because we are not the be all and end all of everything. And if we’re not up for that, then what are we doing?