Monday, March 19, 2012

Apple and This American Life

Would this picture be different if my Mac was made in the U.S.?
A few weeks ago I listened to an episode of This American Life on my MacBook Air, where journalist Mike Daisey described horrendous conditions in a factory that produced Apple products.

This past week, This American Life had a retraction episode, after it was discovered that some of the important details of the episode were falsified.

The initial episode, and the subsequent retraction, made me think anew about my status as a Mac consumer, and my status as a consumer in general (I won't talk about the latter here, because I have had a slightly easier time navigating those choices. Yes- I find the decisions around technology harder than clothes, baby products, appliances, and food. Perhaps combined).

Both stories got at some of the complexity of what it means to produce a product like an iPhone, iPad, etc. There's low pay and paper-thin margins and somehow it translates to incredible efficiency. But the story of the factory ended up not having the clear cut "bad guys", which is always unsettling and unsatisfying. Even the reporter wasn't maliciously telling lies, it seemed. The factories are bad, but not bad in a simplistic way. Bad in a complicated way. Bad in the ways that are tangled up in U.S. and Chinese economic systems. The villain was hard to pinpoint. The villain might be me and you. It might be the people seeking big profits. It might be the people just trying to get by as managers or as workers. It might be that the system is bigger than the sum of it's parts, which doesn't really make sense.

I feel the tension; I love Apple products. My MacAir is a joy. Incredibly light, simple, beautiful. I'd be happy to pay more for my Mac to have it responsibly produced.  Yet I sense that that's not the choice- Apple production in China is an integral part of what Apple is. As Apple became more evil as a company, my love for its products grew.

I haven't found a satisfying answer to the choice I do have. Technology connects, and it isn't like a stove or fridge where you can buy second hand and keep it until the very end. Eug and I have 4 gadgets in our lives (little MacAir, Big MacAir, Kindle, 1st generation iPod touch). There's a lot of things we don't have, which I won't list here. When my iPod touch finally dies, I won't replace it. But my MacAir cannot be upgraded- I invested in the best version of the small MacAir with longevity in mind.

I'd love to hear your thoughts as you navigate these choices.
In other news, here's to total abandon with finger paints
And oversized gowns that Noah insists on wearing (with nothing underneath) to bed


Darren said...

If you guys ever gave up your Apple stuff, Eug would probably cry.

First, let me say that I've not seriously considered this issue.
I find the whole issue of holding companies to account something of a pandora’s box. Overall, we don’t spend a lot of money on stuff, and yet we buy all matters of electronic devices and clothing made in the developing world. We also have 401ks and Retirement funds, which invest in many different companies all around the world. If I were to try to become informed in the industrial practices of my stores, clothing labels, technology providers and companies in my investment portfolio, I am quite certain that my head would explode. Right now, if I actually remember to send everyone in the family out the door with a lunch, I am doing really well.

Then again, this is not your question. You’re asking, “What to do with the information about Apple in your possession?”
Knowing what you know, can you, or should you, still use Apple products?

I know that this might sound like a huge cop-out, but I think that this is a question that only you can answer.

As a loyal Apple customer you feel a kind of empathy towards workers of that company. I totally get it and understand why you feel as if you might need to respond. When Verizon workers went on strike here, I sent an email to the company urging them to treat their workers fairly. As a customer of that company, I felt that my voice might carry more credibility and that they might actually listen to me. I’m not really sure if I can tell you why this particular issue became important to me (or at least important enough to write an email.

Have you communicated to Apple about your concerns? Maybe if enough Apple consumers take action, this might have a positive effect on the way that the company does business?

Concrete Gardener said...

Thanks Darren. I think you're absolutely right that at minimum, writing to Apple is a response- I had to swallow because I haven't actually written to Apple- though I will try! The letter will say I, as a customer, am willing to buy a more expensive product that's responsibly produced.

I'd never expect Eug to give up his Mac- we tried sharing it for some of the reasons in the post, but turns out he needs his own and I need my own (which, when we had just two bags of stuff, was a lot).

I find Apple products one of the places where I'm inconsistent - and I've opened Pandora's box. In a lot of ways Apple is "better" than other companies (in allowing certain reviews, in that we actually know some of the factories that produce Apple products, etc, they are actually better products so we can keep them longer.)

Apple is tough because there are very few items we buy new, but laptops are one- we replace about every 5 years. We do grapple with socially responsible investing, and pulled our small retirements out of stocks until we could figure that one out.

I don't think pulling out money or not buying anything new is a choice that everyone can make-and we certainly didn't open pandora's box all at once.

Thanks for the push to write to Apple. That was helpful. I'll write about pandora's box soon.