Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Why We Should at Least Think About Boycotting Apple

I am an IBM user. But it is just a fluke of my technological education. Had I first been introduced to computer technology through the Macintosh, I would be an Apple lover I’m sure. I don’t own an iPhone or an iPad. Not because of any ethical stance or loyalty to another brand, but because I’m broke and making myself use what I have. I’ve envied my colleagues who've used Apple products for decades. So cool, so sexy. Even now, there are all those apps that can be downloaded and no more paper files to carry from meeting to meeting.

I first I heard about the human rights violations in China from  Mr. Daisey. Like Steve Jobs and Apple, I ignored him. Then I read a full expose in The New York Times here, which was followed by this in the L.A. Times and this in The Guardian. I was initially surprised to hear that Apple’s manufacturing plants in China were so deplorable. I don’t know why I associated Apple with earth friendly and humanitarian issues. Maybe it was because Steve Jobs seemed like a New Age man, with his eye well into the 21st century. My husband, a scientist, tells me I shouldn’t be surprised because Research (which Jobs headed) is totally separate from Manufacturing (which I suppose is headed by someone else). Jobs may or may not have known about what was happening, but from a scientist’s perspective, my husband assures me, one can understand why Jobs would be oblivious.

I have many, many friends and colleagues who are loyal and devoted Apple users, and my intention is not to deny them their tools. But when Guy Debord writes about the future of capitalism manifesting itself in the spectacle of technology, where we appear more connected but are actually more alienated (from the conditions of others around the world?), the strange paradox he points out is not so strange after all. What is going on in China is no different from the Western Imperial impulse of the 19th century to bring spices, teas, silks, gold, as well as beautiful and refined objects home to the mother country. This time, though, it’s Technological Colonialism, where we mine for abstract human effort rather than raw materials to make the objects we find so awesome.

Jobs’ genius was to show us the beautiful and aesthetic qualities of his technological innovations, to make us think that beauty and pleasure reside in technology. Like a hard gem-like flame that hangs in front of our eyes, Jobs' rhetoric of aestheticism mystifies and seduces. I’m not asking that people give up their Apple gadgets (as though it were even possible), but that we should at least think about the global cost of our avant-garde sensibilities. Ultimately, it will be the Apple devotees who make the difference.


  1. Thanks for posting! I've been thinking something along the same lines, but haven't figured out what to say about it yet. Your making the connection to historical inequities and Debord helps clarify this issue for me.

    1. Thank you, Cagle. I'm glad there are others out there thinking the way I do.