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Is Wired Magazine’s Joel Johnson Really to Blame For 17 Suicides at Foxconn?

Posted By Joe Kelly On February 5, 2012 @ 1:51 pm In Commentary | No Comments

So there I was yesterday in the waiting room of my local Mazda dealership, waiting for my wife’s car to be serviced. My wife hands me the March 2011 issue of Wired [1] magazine and says something like “Hey Nerdboy Joe, this looks interesting! Would you like to read it?”

Obviously, my wife doesn’t know that I am not a big fan of Wired. I think that Wired tries too hard to make make information technology seem cool, hip and edgy. As far as nerds go, I like to think that I’m pretty cool, hip and edgy but I don’t always want IT to be portrayed this way. The problem with making IT cool is that everyone wants it, whether or not they understand how it works, how it’s made and how much damage it can do if misused or used carelessly. As the late Carl Sagan [2] said:

We live in a society absolutely dependent on science and technology and yet have cleverly arranged things so that almost no one understands science and technology. That’s a clear prescription for disaster.

Anyway, I digress. Back to the magazine.  The front cover of the March 2011 issue of Wired had a very provocative headline:

1 MILLION WORKERS.

90 MILLION iPHONES.

17 SUICIDES.

THIS IS WHERE YOUR GADGETS COME FROM.

SHOULD YOU CARE?

I must admit that the headline did sound interesting, so I took the magazine from my wife and I started reading the cover story [3], which was entitled “1 Million Workers. 90 Million iPhones. 17 Suicides. Who’s to Blame?”

At the outset of the story, the reader is introduced to the gigantic Chinese company Foxconn [4], which manufacturers motherboards and other components found in consumer electronics devices such as Apple’s [5] iPhone [6]. The first page of the story is accompanied by a photo of a dreary assembly line at Foxconn’s Shenzhen plant. And I thought the cubicle farms that many Western nerds work in were bad! No way. This assembly line is way worse. For me, it evokes memories of so many futuristic movies where the middle class has been crushed and replaced by a gigantic worker class that is forced to work in slave-like conditions to produce products for the rich and powerful. It’s no wonder that Foxconn employees have been jumping off buildings. I certainly would not want to be one of the Chinese workers in that photo!

Anyway, the basic premise of Joel Johnson’s story is that the Western world’s insatiable lust for consumer electronics, like the iPhone, has somehow lead to the tragic suicide deaths of 17 Foxconn workers. In fact, Joel Johnson even takes some of the blame upon himself, saying:

When 17 people take their lives, I ask myself, did I in my desire hurt them? Even just a little? And of course the answer, inevitable and immeasurable as the fluttering silence of our sun, is yes. Just a little.

I think the key phrase is “Just a little”. In fact, I might have said “Just a little…but by such an insignificant amount that it would not have made any difference to the situation whatsoever”.

I’m getting tired of the recent trend in the media of making millions of nameless middle-class consumers feel guilty for things like rampant consumerism, global warming and out-of-control eWaste pollution. When an average consumer buys an iPhone, they are just doing what Apple’s clever advertising compelled them to do.

Yes, compelled.

As described in Morgan Spurlock’s documentary The Greatest Movie Ever Sold [7], advertising companies are now using neuromarketing [8] to make ads more effective, in a biochemical sense. If you combine neuromarketing with the coming wave of Minority-Report-style facial recognition advertising [9], does the average consumer really have a chance? If you don’t buy this gadget, Nerdboy Joe, you are a loser!

What really annoys me about Joel Johnson is that he identified a problem but he didn’t have the courage to suggest a real solution to the problem. If Joel stops buying iPhones, will that really prevent Foxconn workers from committing suicide?  I don’t think so.

Joel’s story does not cast enough blame on the elephant in the room [10] — Apple, and other massive companies of the same ilk. Those companies have the power and the money to make working conditions better for every worker in their supply chain, no matter what country they are in. All it would take is some courage, leadership and a leap of faith.

I have to hand it to Joel, however, for mentioning the concept of “blame outsourcing” in his story. I have never heard that clever expression before.  I can tell you from having to frequently deal with outsourced tech support organizations all over the world, that there does seem to be a lot of blame outsourcing going on these days! Not only is outsourcing of tech support cheaper for these companies but it also gives them the added benefit of blaming the “outsourcee” company for mistreatment of those workers. There’s progress for you!

So Joel, the next time you write an article like this, please have the courage to blame the real culprit. If it results in me paying 50% more for my gadgets, that’s okay with me. There will be less eWaste and happier workers all over the world. And in the long run, that’s good for everyone, including the Fat Cats [11].

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    Article printed from Nerd Boys: http://nerdboys.com

    URL to article: http://nerdboys.com/2012/02/05/is-wired-magazines-joel-johnson-really-to-blame-for-17-suicides-at-foxconn/

    URLs in this post:

    [1] Wired: http://www.wired.com/magazine/

    [2] Carl Sagan: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carl_Sagan

    [3] story: http://www.wired.com/magazine/2011/02/ff_joelinchina/

    [4] Foxconn: http://www.foxconn.com/

    [5] Apple’s: http://www.apple.com/

    [6] iPhone: http://www.apple.com/iphone/

    [7] The Greatest Movie Ever Sold: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1743720/

    [8] neuromarketing: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neuromarketing

    [9] facial recognition advertising: http://www.extremetech.com/extreme/94116-minority-report-facial-recognition-advertising-has-arrived

    [10] elephant in the room: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elephant_in_the_room

    [11] Fat Cats: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fat_cat_%28term%29

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