The episode of This American Life that inspired this blog entry has since been retracted. It appears Mr. Daisy fabricated many of the personal experiences he had while in China and lied to Ira Glass and his staff when they asked him for his interpreter's contact information. So in the interest of full disclosure, I think it important that you listen to This American Life's Retraction episode before proceeding with the rest of this blog entry. I still think much of the information here is worthwhile, but I'd want you to hear the truth of things before you read it.
All the best,
I am a geek married to a geek who works in technology. So we like our electronics; desktop, laptop and tablet computers, MP3 players, cameras and GPS devices. We're not upgrade-at-the-slightest-provocation types; our server is eight years old, my laptop is at least five years old and we buy sturdy cell phones so we don't have to take advantage of the 'New Every Two' promotions companies like Verizon offer for the sake of customer retention. Still, we gots some gadgets 'round here.
Recently, This American Life appealed to folks like me with its Mr. Daisey and the Apple Factory episode. Those of you who read Boing Boing will have already encountered David Pescovitz's discussion of it, but I encourage you to go further and listen to the episode itself. It was a game-changer for me, because it elucidates in poignant detail the suffering and destruction caused by the supply of and demand for electronic devices.
It made me think about the life-cycle of these objects; not just where they're born but how, where and why they die. For that, I turned to Annie Leonard's brilliant The Story of Stuff Project, and wouldn't you know it, she has produced a short video called The Story of Electronics. It ends with a call to action directing the viewer to the Electronics Takeback Coalition, which works to force electronics manufacturers to take responsibility for the products they make, cradle to coffin.
For those of you who like lists, here's the reading/listening/viewing order I recommend:
Boing Boing: Mr. Daisey and the Apple Factory by David Pescovitz
This American Life: Mr. Daisey and the Apple Factory
The Story of Stuff Project: The Story of Electronics
The Electronics Takeback Coalition Web Site
You'll think your own thoughts and draw your own conclusions when you finish, but since this is my blog, I thought I'd share mine. I was horrified and heartbroken to internalize the reality that children were building my devices, that the people who built them couldn't afford to buy them and might never have seen them on, that people in their twenties had ruined their hands with repetitive labor and toxic chemicals so that we in the West could follow electronic trends. I do buy sturdy machines and use them until they fall apart because I do care about this world and all the living beings who share it with me, but Mr. Daisey brought it all the way home, all the way into my mind and heart.
But there are ways to limit the suffering we unintentionally inflict on both sides of the electronic life-cycle. We can research our purchases before we buy them, so that we're getting well-built goods that meet our needs and will last a long time. We can buy from companies that transparently publish audits of the factories that build their products, so that we're not supporting industries that hurt people. We can also buy from manufacturers that have takeback programs, so that our purchases have somewhere to go besides a landfill at the end of their lives. We can refuse 'New Every Two' promotions and keep the cell phones we have. We can remember to do these things, even when we're busy and just need to buy a printer this afternoon, damn it.
I don't do any of them consistently right now, but I want to, and I think I owe it to my values to try. More importantly, I owe it to the people who build my products and the world that reclaims them when they die. I don't think I can be a geek at the expense of others or of the Earth, and that is perhaps the most important lesson I've taken away from the efforts of the brilliant people who brought this issue to my attention.