Rekindle Your Wild Joy and sense of deep Belonging through spiritual ecopsychology and the arts, incl. bioregional awareness, animistic perspectives, strategies for simple living, & low/no-tech DIY fun.

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.



Conspicuous Consumption – Computer Bling January 7, 2011

OMG. I’m floored at something I just found on the ‘net.

First, some background is in order.

I’ve been slowly coming to grips with the necessity to upgrade my computer – again. You likely know the drill: every five years or so having to drop $2000 plus tax on an upgraded Mac because the new software has gotten too sloppy fat to fit on the old OS (remember the tiny self-contained box with 512 mb that seemed enormous?! — but I show my age here.)

My current silicon-based dream sidekick of choice, the Macbook Pro 13″, does not come with an anti-glare screen – and that shininess of the default screen drives me mad. I mean, the magpie in me does love shiny, but we don’t love seeing our own reflection when we’re seeking to focus on other. And I like to write outside, which due to that reflectiveness in light means no sun, ever, so brrr and back inside just to thaw out and be vitamin-D deprived and grumpy.

Why won’t Apple make the 13″ with a non-glare screen? They offer the 15″ and 17″ laptops and even the Air 13″ with it (albeit at extra cost), plus every computer before this Intel chip version had such a screen as standard, so I know it’s possible. Darned cheapskates, not offering the smallest laptop in non-glare. I struggle with the idea of lugging around a heavy 15″ laptop after loving my used 12″ Powerbook G4 for so long. Plus there’s the extra cost of a 15″ vs. a 13″, the latter of which I’d prefer anyway except for that blasted shiny screen. Grrr.  Brr and grr. (Thank you, bears, for this most useful phoneme.) –But I digress.

Not finding the ideal I have in my mind, I waste embarrassing amounts of my precious life looking online, and then go repeatedly to the Apple store to physically touch these things I’ve seen in cyberland. (Does this sound familiar?) I’m a rather reluctant shopper because of dismally slow decision-making. The American economy had better not wait for me to save it.

Now to the point.

Window shopping online, I discovered a new option: the Macbook Pro also comes in GOLD. 24k gold, to be precise. With the Apple logo in — yes, you guessed it if you’re over the top and love glitter musicals — real diamonds.

I’m not making this up!

Now that’s shiny.

It comes with personalized engraving in the language of your choice. Pricing starts at $29,000 USD. (Sure – I’ll take two!)

ComputerChoppers has also made a rose gold and black anodized Macbook Pro 17″.

If for some reason you’re not into Apple, you can get a 24kt Gold Blackberry Bold 9000 – priced at only $940 including a “black leather rear.”

On a particularly amusing note, this model is advertised by as being “less gaudy.”

They can plate anything, it seems – wanna bling your grandma’s false teeth? They’ll plate your iPhone beginning at $699 USD, phone not included. For the kids, gold PlayStations are available, starting at $4999.

On this pricing, why not just call it $5000? Please: does anyone really think “4000” instead of “5000” when reading “4999”? Further, folks are unlikely to quibble over that lone dollar. “Well, I’m not about to spend $5000 to fancify this gadget. I wouldn’t mind $4999, but there’s a limit.” Oy.

Back in 1899, Thorstein Veblen coined the term “conspicuous consumption” in his book “Theory of the Leisure Class.”

The basic idea is that our culture has come to collect stuff in order to show off to others. Not because we need it, or necessarily even really like it, but in order to display status. Wealth = power, you know, so it becomes important to create this image through our purchases. Keeping up with the Joneses and all that follows, as does low self-esteem if your stuff is not the proper stuff, as can be witnessed in the cruelty and desperation of teenagers over $200 status shoes, or the cachet that a Coach handbag can confer among women.

But this becomes dangerous. We can begin to equate personal worth with material goods. And these are usually goods that have nothing to do with us, really – they’re not handed down from the family, or created by friends or ourselves. There’s no connection; there’s no story. And without storied connection there’s not much real honor in its owning. I mean, most of these pricey items were made in third-world factories with dubious policies regarding employee rights. Where’s the honor in wearing some sweatshop child’s suffering?

And to take it even further in an animistic sense, all of these things began as someone else’s body. Furniture was trees; clothing and handbags were plants and animals; computers were metals deep in the earth. So the question then becomes, was it worth it to turn them into… this? How do these beings feel about becoming, say, a hat with fake plastic poop on top? And if they are unhappy about it, what effect does that have on the humans who now live with them?

Now I’m a fan of arting things up if anyone is. But I prefer the DIY method. Check out this steampunked computer and keyboard modded by the now-legendary Datamancer.


Keyboard by Datamancer - with Enochian alphabet

Keyboard by Datamancer - with Enochian alphabet

"Computational Engine" made by Datamancer

In the end, I decided to stick with my old Powerbook for awhile longer. It still does most of the things I need it to, and it’s the perfect size.

It’s really nice, plus easier on both the wallet and the planet, to want what you already have.