The Agony/Ecstasy of Steve Jobs (and Apple’s Supply Chain)

I have loved Apple computers since my Dad brought home our first Apple II, but I am nowhere near the level of fanaticism of Mike Daisey

Daisey is a pure-form Apple fanboy (and veteran journalist) who waxed lyrically about the beauty and pain of Apple products as part of his long-running, sold-out, one-man show at the Woolly Mammoth theater in D.C.

The gist of his monologue is this:
1) Apple has created some wonderful products and some pretty terrible ones (see: Newton), and some of its best ideas have come from the IP of other companies (e.g., the mouse and keyboard, etc.).

2) Steve Jobs is a forceful leader who is credited with saving the company and has established an almost unbreakable hold on the market, but who answers to nobody and has a long history of manipulating his cohorts, including Wozniak (who loved Daisey’s monologue, incidentally). 

3) Apple has overlooked one critical facet of its product supply chain - labor. It has not held Foxconn, its biggest supplier/manufacturer (and, indeed, the world’s), accountable for its poor treatment of workers. The fallacy is that high-tech robots make shiny Apple products, but the reality is that China labor is so cheap that people (some of them children) put iPods and MacBook Pros together. Often these workers never even see the end product. They work long hours (sometimes 14 with few breaks), and they are not always paid for their efforts - this is about earning what they are supposed to under their terms of employment, not a call for a living wage. Horror stories of injuries and suicides are numerous - enough said.

Look, Apple isn’t alone in this. Many companies struggle to learn about the risks and tradeoffs that suppliers make on their behalf. To truly dig deep, as Patagonia has, is very difficult and costly for the company and its customers. Many more companies prefer not to look too carefully at their supply networks, believing that so long as the product is functional and they are not liable for damages wrought by their suppliers, then there is no reason to investigate further. Finally, we the customers are complicit when we demand better products on a yearly basis, and we want them cheaper. 

Daisey stresses this in his monologue, and adds that we can think differently about upgrading. When companies announce their next amazing devices, we can ask ourselves if we really need the upgrade immediately. Holding onto tech devices longer is both ethically defensible and economically sensible. We should weigh the human and environmental costs of our upgrades and slow ourselves down when possible. 

He is a truly funny man, with amazing storytelling skills, and an earnest plea that we consider by whose hands we get our goods. I recommend you catch his one-man show if he comes to your city.

I will leave you with a quote: 
"Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked." - Steve Jobs

Read on: Are you more like Wozniak or Jobs? 

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  1. stepwise posted this