Do most of us really pay attention to where what we buy comes from, or in what conditions it has been made? I suspect that the answer is that we do so, some of the time. We might think twice about dirt-cheap tee-shirts or out-of-season fruits flown across half the world to appear on the supermarket shelves. But electronic objects? I rather think not.
These objects of desire – alright, in many cases they are professional or domestic necessities – are chosen as much for their design as for their utility. And we all know that designers come predominantly from the western world. Monologist (his word) Mike Daisey uses the products of Apple Inc and its co-founder Steve Jobs to tell the story of a brilliant inventor and inspired designer who was also a ruthless businessman.
Genius can often be unpleasant. So, it seems to follow, are geniuses. Daisey’s thesis, directed by Jean-Michele Gregory and delivered sitting at a plain desk, is that the elctronic components for the iMacs, the iPods, the iPads and all their siblings to which we are so devoted, are made by hand in vast factories in China where the plentiful supply of manpower means that hand-made is much cheaper than machine-made.
The work is repetitive, the hours are unbelievably long, the buildings are dangerous, the atmosphere is literally poisonous and the wages are low. The cost in human terms is chilling, including frequent suicides. We are told all this by someone who tells the story with absolute conviction, as a self-proclaimed geek as well as a solitary investigator.
Daisey, I think, knows that he can’t really change anything. Supply and demand are international imperatives, though recounting their inbalance makes an interesting piece of documentary theatre. We might all come away from this HighTide Festival production handling our mobile hones and laptops just a little more warily. For just a little while. But long term? I doubt it.