A letter to Apple.
I think I might write to Apple. A proper, physical letter.
Not because I expect a reply, or even that I expect them to care what a single customer thinks, but because I am in a quandary over the fact that I own 2 Macs, and an iPhone, and how I square that against the my ethics- particularly in light of the recent New York Times article about labour conditions in China.
Of course, this is not a new story - people have been exploited in the production of goods for centuries, and Apple is not new to stories circulating about it’s suppliers Foxconn, Wintek and others. This is without even acknowledging the appalling atrocities committed in the DRC in search of Rare Earth materials, touching a whole host of products beyond those of one producer.
I suppose my attitude in the past has been fatalistic- if it is impossible to avoid companies that produce artefacts using such practices, why not at least choose one that acknowledges the problem?
The issue with this line of reasoning is that it favours the status quo- if we do not hold that we can change the world (or are led into that tacit assumption), then the world will not change. Interesting that I have applied this in other areas of my life (like shopping locally, buying fair trade produce) and yet the question of where the technology I buy has been glanced over.
Ivan Illich, and E. F. Schumacher both write about how a change might be bought about (or at least highlight the conditions required), and it’s interesting to see that these conditions are starting to appear. For instance, the open source movement- and how this could have an impact on hardware; not just creating outstanding software solutions, but how about the hardware to run it on? For instance, the very powerful, diminutive Raspberry Pi.
Open design has a lot to add here - take the local production methods outlined by Schumacher. Instead now, we can share plans and best practice across the whole globe, not simply our own physical location. 3D printers might not be able to print to a fine enough resolution (or in comparable materials like Aluminium) at the minute, but with the right development and with other community initiatives like Fab Labs and Hackerspaces it’s not too much of a stretch to imagine that I (or my son, when he’s a bit older) could make my own phone.
Many will raise the valid counterpoint that some people have neither the inclination or talent to successfully produce their own hardware, in the same way that many currently lack the inclination or talent to produce their own software. This is true, but with advances in the manufacturing techniques mentioned above, it would be possible to produce artefacts in the country of origin from locally-sourced and available materials; which might even be a catalyst to see more heterogeneous products that refer to the culture of their origin. See Don Norman’s excellent article in Core 77.
So this takes me back to the opening line of this post.
Why write to Apple? Well, for one thing it’ll get my concerns off my chest. Secondly though, I do not believe that we are incapable of making a difference- I’m not arrogant enough to think that my sole contribution will persuade Apple to crusade on behalf of a fair deal for Chinese workers - but collectively, we can make a difference.