Rekindle Your Wild Joy and Deep Belonging to the Earth

A “Must Hear” Whole Systems Story January 8, 2012

Yesterday I happened to have the radio on, and caught a show that blew my socks off, a recording of Mike Daisey’s stage performance about a trip he took to China. It’s an excerpt from his one-man play, “The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs.” A self-proclaimed “worshipper in the cult of Mac,” when Daisey gleefully opened up his newest iPhone, he found four photos on it – photos taken in the factory, as a test of the camera. He began to be haunted by these images. It occurred to him that he’d never once given a thought about how his beloved gadgets came into being. So bless his heart, he went to find out.

This is one of the best whole-systems pieces I’ve ever heard. I doubt it would be possible to listen to it and not come away with a deeply expanded awareness of the need to consider the life-cycle of all of our things.

Mike Daisey did fabulous journalism, to begin with; through his detailed, evocative imagery, the listener really feels herself to be there with him, seeing and hearing what he is experiencing. When he interviews a worker whose hands were ruined by the minute repetitive work of creating iPads and then realizes that this man has never actually seen one completed, let alone one powered up and working, I was glued to the radio. The man thought Daisey’s iPad was like magic.

And it is, in a way. I’m incredibly grateful to our technology, from radios on, for allowing me to hear Daisey’s performance done thousands of miles away, and allowing you to read my words about it now.

Daisey’s honesty about the dilemmas this growing awareness poses in his life is refreshing, and it is an issue we all face, whether we think about it or not. If you are reading this on a personal computer, you are complicit, as am I. How best to deal with this reality? On a personal level, should we give our gadgets up and try to live a materially simpler life? Or is the commerce actually helping the people there, as many claim? On a societal level, does the problem simply lie with unscrupulous companies in Shenzhen (a former fishing village, now manufacturing central) trying to make the biggest bucks in the fastest time; shades of the Gold Rush in the American West; boom and bust, and damn the consequences? If so, could it be fixable through stronger governmental oversight of the tech industry and overseas manufacturing? Or is the problem actually rooted more deeply in the west’s rampant overconsumption; in the corporate capitalist industrial growth model itself? All of the above?

I intend to give Mr. Daisey and the Apple Factory to the students in my Ecopsychology in Context course at Naropa this semester as part of their required “reading.” It’s that good.  Be sure to listen to the commentary afterward, too. It’s much dryer, but contains important follow-up journalism regarding Apple’s response that will make you think even more deeply about the issue.

So what can we do? These issues are complex; to begin with, please don’t jump to immediate conclusions about whom to blame. Socioenvironmental issues like this, involving toxins, survival, workers’ rights, economic growth, and desire, are systemic problems. And when we’re talking widespread, multi-faceted processes like this, it’s often mistaken and shallow thinking to point to one minute element that contributes to it. In fact, shifting one little element in a system more often than not leads to unforeseen, unintended consequences that we then have to add to the pile of problems. (Illustrating that will be another long story.)

A middle-ground response for the individual could be to just keep the gadget you have for as long as you can before replacing it. This would help on both ends of its life, the manufacturing end and the discarding end. How about we re-define the “coolness” factor to include long-term sustainability for both planet and people?

 You can hear the piece on NPR’s This American Life website (after 7 pm Sun 1/8/12). It’s episode #454.  There’s a short promo too, so you can see if you’re interested.

Please let me know what you think about these things here in the Comments section!


Update 1/16/12:  Apple has responded with a new page on their website, Supplier Responsibility at Apple.

Update 3/3/13 (rather late, but I just found out about this):   NPR has retracted the story since discovering that some of this powerful piece was, sadly, falsified by Mike Daisey.

I apologize for unintentionally passing on false information. According to my keen-eyed student, Jason Butler, who brought my attention to this, it is to this date the only story that This American Life has ever retracted.

Although now proven to be at least partially fictional, it is still a powerful meditation on some of the systemic effects of global capitalism. To learn more about that, I suggest John Ryan and Alan Thein Durning’s excellent short book Stuff: The Secret Lives of Everyday Things, and the subsequent (easily Googleable) film along the same lines,  The Story of Stuff.



6 Responses to “A “Must Hear” Whole Systems Story”

  1. This is a complex issue only in terms of those of us using the products not advocating for increased workplace health and safety that we will contribute to paying for.

    It’s not just up to Apple, we purchase the product (well I have Android but do own a pc). The 1% Beast is fed by the 99% Occupy who choose to feed it. I’m on a deliberatly low income, I’ll definitly pay more if it means workers have meaningful safe work.

    Thanks for sharing the link.

  2. Tina Fields Says:

    Char Paul, I admire the ethic you display here. I’m totally with you in your last sentence. What are we actually buying? That’s the question that stays with me. Am I buying someone’s suffering along with that cute t-shirt or cheaper lettuce? Paying the true costs of things would mean we bought fewer things, I’ll wager, and better ones.

  3. Anne-Marie Cory (facebook link) Says:

    listened to this yesterday-very good.

  4. Carol Ann (facebook link) Says:

    After reading the blog, I plan to listen to the interview tonight. Thanks, Tina.

  5. Carol Ann (facebook link) Says:

    Wow, the truth hurts

  6. JGBergstrom Says:

    The Manifest Guru reborn a Slave to the Matrix (as punishment for his lack of awareness as a Guru of sorts)? Truly, hypocrisy knows no limits these days; Why focus on the self described Guru, instead of the Society that supported him? It just makes no sense to elevate any Individual in this way and further supports the notion that we aren’t responsible for the outcome. Call me Crazy, this year we embarked upon another interesting Constitutional Journey with the onset of Gender Neutrality in passive/interactive Marketing strategies (Target, believe it or not). It may seem a bit off topic to some and the reality beneath the surface may not be realized, yet I think it marks a beginning.

    Symbiotic relationships and interactions are cultivated as seen in the Natural World. Nematodes, arthropods, Bacilli, single celled and complex organisms all functioning without the need for intervention. We know that these systems have been at work since the inception of living organisms, yet we refuse to raise our awareness. Responsibility begins with reproduction and in the case of the IPhone it has been Monumental. But, it is still in the unfolding and unfortunately most of us are too tired for the comparison/contrast at the end of the day. It makes life easier or at least it seems that way when we no longer have to do the mundane and go to a library, plant a seed or accept responsibility for the life around us. All of us answerable (passive unless compelled) to the Borg known as the interactive animated and magical web with instantaneous gratification. Of course before the web it was what?(Plug in your TV) Then before that what it was something else (Electricity) and prior to that it was still some other thing (Machine)? No escape from the why or REASON for our existence in a cold Universe with nothing more than our evolving Brain and it’s ability to manifest language, tools and rules for use. Not to mention Religion (Language/Rules), Societal Organization (Tools) and Government (Rules for use). Yes the Human Brain manifested Tyrants, Monarchs, Republics, War and even the IPhone and didn’t need a higher power for any of it. Although, a Garage might have made it easier?

    We make the Rules, We can change the Rules and hopefully we will before there is nothing left of our Paradise. I’ve been called silly and told that my notions are infantile. My only response is OK, I have an opinion. Are we Spiritual Beings or Beings with Perceptive adaptation secondary to Memory/Experiential Cognition?

    My Rant has been interesting,
    Thank you

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