Steve the engineering genius built a computer called the Apple I. It was fun showing it off to the other geeks at the Homebrew Computer Club. Steve the marketing genius thought it was fun selling them at the local computer shop.
Both Steves were fun loving guys who really enjoyed what they did. It was even more fun when they made tons of money, although Steve the engineering genius wasn't so impressed by money.
When designing Apple computers stopped being fun, Steve the engineering genius moved on to other interests that were more fun, like teaching kids at his local school. Steve the marketing genius went on to make even more money by selling even more computers and phones and movies and all kinds of cool fun stuff.
And it all started with two young people who just wanted to have fun.
Too bad the young people who build Apple products today aren't having as much fun. They are having so little fun that Foxconn, the huge Taiwanese company who assembles many Apple products, now requires its Chinese workers to sign an agreement that they won't commit suicide. The company has also put up nets so that despairing workers can't end their funless lives by jumping off of roofs.
Foxconn requires 80-100 hours of overtime at some of its plants, while forcing workers to stand up the entire time, even though their jobs could just as easily be done while seated. The young workers report that without this forced overtime they would not even make a living wage.
These young people are also exposed to noxious substances whose long-term damaging health effects are well documented. Maybe the company figures that misery will drive these workers to quit before the chemicals do serious harm.
Of course going back to the crowded cheerless workers' dormitories can't be much of a relief. The company security guards enforce a prison-like social environment. Hair driers and other such personal items are forbidden. Even the TV rooms have small screen TV's, ironic considering that Foxconn makes some pretty big ones. But hey, who has the time to notice the prison-like atmosphere and the tiny TV's? Flopping down in exhaustion is the most popular activity.
Steve Jobs, the Apple marketing genius, has done little to deploy his considerable charisma, formidable personalty and enormous economic power to remedy this situation. However,Steve Wozniak, the Apple engineering genius who is less impressed by money, reportedly cried when shown a play about the abominable conditions faced by the young people who build Apple products today. The Woz always was the nicer Steve.
But even the tears of the man who built the first Apple product won't change the conditions that his successors face today. Let's take all of those gee-whiz geeky iPhones, iPads, and iMacs and turn them against those who would rob today's young people of the joy of youth. Come on Apple fanboys and fangirls, how about a global resistance movement to the corporate fun killers?
Special thanks to Michelle Chen at Working in These Times who has written extensively about these 21st century sweatshops. BTW, in case you are wondering, this whole piece was typed on my trusty 2009 iMac. The cartoon by Carol Simpson Cartoons was created on a 2010 Mac Mini.