In our third time around with the Mike Daisey and Apple story, I am left with three main thoughts, being both novel and recurring.
The first, and most prominent to me, was the question that I have not been fully able to answer across all three blogs: If this wasn’t all about Apple, would we really have cared? Did Mike Daisey’s story of Foxconn, beit true or false, only catch our attention because it was about a Man and a Company so revered by us that we couldn’t dare imagine Apple as being anything but the most ethical, the most innovative, and most popular company. But what if Mike Daisey had chosen to highlight Foxconn’s conditions under the context of Samsung, or Nokia? Would TAL have given it airtime? Would he have been asked to come to speak at tech/no? The answer I tend to believe is no, and it brings me back to my blog post from Blog I. Our obsession with Apple, the creation of the Apple ‘cult’, is what gives this story its sensationalism, but also desensitizes us to the true message. In his first blog, Daisey says “[…] the most dangerous thing in any religion is when people start to think”. Until the Foxconn scandal publicity, and Mike Daisey’s story, no one had thought twice about where their beloved iPhone, or MacBook had come from. What made Daisey’s story resonate so strongly, looking in particular at our class, is that it made us question the ethics of Apple, and ourselves. I wrote my first blog on how both we, and Apple share the blame for making/supporting unethical decisions. It made us all feel somewhat guilty as we held our iPhone, our MacBook.
Referring back to the latter observation of desensitization, I think this speaks to our ability to forget and forgive Apple. Amidst the height of the publicity in the Foxconn ‘scandal’, Apple’s stock showed no sign of downturn. Each of us including myself wrote passionately in opposition to the Foxconn atrocities and to Apple, but followed by stating that it would not be enough to prompt us to ditch our iPhones or MacBooks. The portion of Daisey’s monologue where he talks about how Apple often decides for us what it is we ‘want’ as consumers (i.e. the iPod Mini – iPod Nano case), speaks to the nature of the relationship Apple has with its customers. Our relationship with Apple and its products is so deep that we marginalize some 430,000 Chinese workers in favor of technological innovation- but this not a character flaw of ours. We are used to being told by Apple that its latest innovation is what we want. We subscribe to this and to Apple, as they are often right. We have come to accept Apple, and accept what goes on at Foxconn largely because, at least on my part for one, Steve Jobs and Apple have told us that they have the situation under control. That Apple is taking steps to ensure ethical business practices at Foxconn. I am not using this as a platform to question Steve Jobs’ credibility; moreso I wish to highlight just how much the entire narrative is driven by our obsession with Apple. The story’s rise to prominence, and eventual diminishment.
One of the actors in the play stated that our judgements are shaped by our idiosyncrasies. In the case of Apple, our relationship with this brand was already so emotionally entrenched that the idea of challenging the Apple status quo caused us to question that emotional tie. This is what made the story so powerful- the emotional connection we all have with Apple. Would we really have cared if this story was about Microsoft? How Microsoft’s suppliers have awful working conditions, and produce our devices at the expense of human lives? Would we have believed Bill Gates as he assured us that Microsoft was doing everything necessary to ensure ethical business practices at suppliers’ factories? Again, the answer to these questions in my opinion is no. Our emotional connection to Apple products fueled this story at every cycle: We questioned our relationship with Apple as we held the Apple devices we could not live without. We were outraged at being misled to believe Apple was the unethical company it was accused of being. But in the end, my relationship with Apple leaves this narrative unchanged. The fact of the matter is Steve Jobs was a genius, and the company and iconic brand which he created, enjoys an intense emotional connection with its followers. One which withstands a narrative like Mike Daisey’s. Whether this is unhealthy, is a discussion for another time. (or the comments section)
The second point that stood out to me was the speech offered by the Chinese professor (whose name I did not fully get). The importance of his point about understanding the context behind what we hear about Foxconn cannot be overstated. I think this assertion speaks to some of the main themes that we have struggled with over these few blogs. Art vs journalism and the truth. Speaking on journalism and truth, for me this section about China reminded me of themes from my anthropology class last semester. Cultural relativism, as we learned, is the principle that human’s beliefs and activities should be understood and analyzed by others in terms of that individual’s own culture. In this case, understanding how important the job at Foxconn is to these employees is critical in judging the facts about Foxconn. Understanding the type of person who works at Foxconn- individuals coming from rural villages hoping to make a living at a revered position, is far different than the description that Mike Daisey, or any media outlets, have given to the Foxconn employees. The Professor cited cultural and social gaps between the US and China which make it difficult for us as Americans to judge the practices we hear about at Foxconn. This for me relates back to the theme of trust in journalism, for how can we truly understand what is actually happening at Foxconn without understanding the cultural context? This is a lesson I will carry on with me, and is one that would have significantly impacted my reactions to this entire Mike Daisey narrative. I think after all this the moral of the story is that as citizens of an increasingly globalized and transparent society, we have an opportunity, and arguably an obligation to seek out the truth for ourselves.