Image: Courtesy of David Pearson Design

I just finished reading “1 million workers. 90 million iPhone. 17 suicides. Who’s to blame?”, a piece about the avalanche of suicides in 2010 at Foxconn’s Shenzen plant.

An excerpt:

“I’ve written thousands of posts, millions of words, about things. Usually things with electricity in them. Doing this for a living, on and off, for the better part of a decade, has greatly—perhaps fundamentally—changed how I perceive the world around me. I can no longer look at the material world as a collection of objects but instead see interfaces, histories, and materials.

To be soaked in materialism, to directly and indirectly champion it, has also brought guilt. I don’t know if I have a right to the vast quantities of materials and energy I consume in my daily life. Even if I thought I did, I know the planet cannot bear my lifestyle multiplied by 7 billion individuals. I believe this understanding is shared, if only subconsciously, by almost everyone in the Western world.

Every last trifle we touch and consume, right down to the paper on which this magazine is printed or the screen on which it’s displayed, is not only ephemeral but in a real sense irreplaceable. Every consumer good has a cost not borne out by its price but instead falsely bolstered by a vanishing resource economy. We squander millions of years’ worth of stored energy, stored life, from our planet to make not only things that are critical to our survival and comfort but also things that simply satisfy our innate primate desire to possess. It’s this guilt that we attempt to assuage with the hope that our consumerist culture is making life better—for ourselves, of course, but also in some lesser way for those who cannot afford to buy everything we purchase, consume, or own.

When that small appeasement is challenged even slightly, when that thin, taut cord that connects our consumption to the nameless millions who make our lifestyle possible snaps even for a moment, the gulf we find ourselves peering into—a yawning, endless future of emptiness on a squandered planet—becomes too much to bear.

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.”


It’s a good piece of writing, clarifies the working conditions (it’s not what you think) and poses a good question: Have we made a subconscious collective bargain at the dawn of the industrial age to trade the resources of our planet for the chance to escape it? And, are we living through transitional times between that decision and its conclusion?

The more we connect with each other, the better we understand how all of our actions impact the rest of the world. We share the earth, its resources, and each of our decision has more influence than we ever realized before. While we’re busy cheering on the Apple iPad2 and another-keep-myself-busy-so-I-don’t-have-to-think-about-important-stuff, we don’t want to comprehend or even tackle the consequences each of our purchase decisions have.

We got enraged about Nike sweatshops but are we are so numb/quiet about the Foxconn issue? Why aren’t we concerned how Rare Earth materials are being mined (Slave labor) and the environmental impact it has (Oh boy.) Why do we drive a Prius (guilty) telling the world a story of green consciousness while the car is filled with rare earth materials, a moving environmental disaster? Would you be willing to pay $100 more for an iPhone if it was manufactured in the United States under more human conditions? Would you pay an additional $100 if the rare earth mine used for your iPhone adheres to environmental standards?

Are these complexities our human brain can’t process? Or are we too busy being entertained not to bother with it? I’m as guilty as anyone, I’m not on any moral high horse. These are just questions we have to work through in the next decades and centuries. The complexity of problems will increase due to our interconnectedness. The earth was able to deal with a billion wasteful Westerners. Here come the emerging countries. Doubtful the earth can take more of it.