Game of Phones


Emperor’s throughout Chinese history have lived and ruled from the powerful walls of the Forbidden City in Beijing, China. Only certain high-class and military citizens were allowed to grace the Forbidden City with their presence. Not many people knew the truth about the goings-on inside the city walls, and that was purposeful. The knowledge gap was a power play, and an effective one. It kept the power in the hands of certain individuals who had a certain agenda. The last emperor to reside in the Forbidden City lived there in 1912 during the fall of the Qing Dynasty. Fast forward 68 years to 1980, and direct your attention to the first of four Special Economic Zones: Shenzhen, China. Shenzhen, in the way that Mike Daisey portrays it, is China’s new Forbidden City. Its residing, although late, emperor? Steve Jobs.

Daisey talks of Jobs’ grandiose legacy from the perspective of one Apple Geek among a “hierarchy of Apple Geeks,” that idolize the image of Jobs commanding his technological throne. Although he’s widely known for his legacy as the CEO and visionary mind behind Apple’s success, his golden touch also extends to the southern shores of China in Shenzhen. Daisey calls Shenzhen a “nameless city” where “all of our crap comes from.” Shenzhen is Jobs’ Forbidden City without the prestige. And his palace within his Forbidden city? Foxconn. A fortress with violent armed guards to boot. 430,000 workers populate his formidable army of robotic, yet certainly human, workers. At the beginning of his talk, Daisey describes taking apart his Apple MacBook as “soothing.” One might imagine that this physically similar experience isn’t quite as therapeutic for the Chinese workers at Foxconn. Here, we find a similarity between the prestigious palace of Chinese history and Foxconn, most of the people residing within its walls have little of now control over their fate.

Enter the courageous Mike Daisey. With his empowering Hawaiian shirt and ethically sound intentions, he uses his business cards as keys to enter the factory fortress that is Foxconn. Just like Apple, Daisey employs a powerful facade to get what he wants. Soon enough, he has seen every square foot of the facility and learned the troubling nuances of life inside Foxconn. His entire view of Apple and its products has changed from loving adoration to a deep internal disgust. His therapeutic remanufacturing of his Apple products will never be the same as he visualizes the original people who put them together.

There is knowledge of Apple’s practices and business with Foxconn, just like there was knowledge of the corrupt governing practices of the Chinese Dynasties. But we will just as soon forget about these practices and return to the beautiful facade that is the legendary design of Apple’s brand and products. Jobs, though dead, remains on his throne. We’re left to wonder, like we might wonder about many emperors of China, did he even have a choice?

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4 thoughts on “Game of Phones

  1. Interesting post…I like the comparison of Steve Jobs to a Chinese emperor, as he did govern Apple with an abrasive and often dictatorial management style as CEO. Also, many often liken Jobs to some sort of deity, a superhuman entity, much like the treatment of the Chinese emperors in ancient times. In an attempt to answer the question which concludes this post, I believe that Steve Jobs always had a choice. He was never forced to allow Apple to engage in the sorts of practices described in the podcast, albeit he was incentivized to do so given the cost-cutting potential. So, maybe, the real issue fundamentally lies with the current capitalist, profit seeking system itself and not any one individual (Steve Jobs) or one organization (Apple).

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  2. I thoroughly enjoyed reading your post and thought the parallels were witty. The question you posed at the end is an interesting one. I believe that Steve Jobs was not forced or coerced into outsourcing his labor and engaging in these practices. He clearly must have been very well aware of the conditions that ensued, and while yes, Apple may be cutting costs by this form of outsourcing, there are always other alternatives. Even simply giving workers rotating shifts would drastically improve their working conditions. But to add to what has already been said, this ethical dilemma stems from societal beliefs as a whole, not just Steve Jobs or Apple as an entity and fixing this mindset would be easier said than done.

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  3. Interesting imagery; I like the creativity with which you expressed this. It’s hard not to drift into just arguing the benefits and damages of globalization for me with this whole issue, so I agree with msm037 above me that it is a complicated web to get into.

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  4. Cool. I can see that you’re not a fan of Steve Jobs and I can see why. I see that you’re pointing at the fact that he did have a choice at doing something about the human conditions in his factories and he did. The choice he could have made is choosing not to maximize profits as much as he could which would have probably meant that he wouldn’t have done as well as he did in the eyes of the shareholders who kept him in the business. Had he decided to choose this option, he would have had to step down and somebody else would have taken his place and done the atrocities he would have. He was in the same situation as Foxconn, company that even though pays double to his employers does it because if he wouldn’t then some other contractor company would do the same and make all the profit they’re making. This is a loop that we cannot get out and one that is most likely the fruit of the unsustainable capitalist economy that we live in.

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