“You can’t make an omelet without breaking a few eggs.” I wish those wise words had originated in my mind from someone other than Brad Pitt’s character in Fight Club, but they did.
In the 1-hour monologue delivered by actor Mike Daisy as part of his full performance, The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs, Daisy uncovers the harsh reality of the conditions at the Foxconn Factory in Shenzhen, China. At the outset, Daisy sounded all too familiar to me; he describes himself as a technology-crazed middle-aged man with the hobbies of reading blogs written by other Apple enthusiasts and spreading rumors of the next fresh Apple product. The point of the podcast which piqued my true interests was when Daisy discovers the four unknown pictures snapped from an iPhone from within the mysterious Foxconn factory. The pictures depicting wooden pallets, a conveyor belt, and out-of-focus large space and an expressionless woman clearly gripped his imagination.
Traveling in the “city without history” with his translator, Cathy, Daisy provides a beautifully grim depiction of Shenzhen. He recounts that Shenzhen is the 3rd largest city in China with over 14 million people and a powerhouse producer of all of our “crap.” As he describes the city, a picture began to form in my mind. Shenzhen is a massive, poorly constructed and tacky Times Square with flashy advertisements constantly blinking through a thick gray haze. Daisy’s description of the “silver poison sky” also contributed to the deathly metropolis of the densely populated city. Later, when Daisy and Cathy’s vehicle abruptly halts at an unconstructed exit on the main highway, the general public safety of Shenzhen is severely called into question. The taxi driver and the two travelers peering over the 85-foot drop behind the single orange traffic cone planted an end-of-the-Earth picture in my mind.
I am left with a disgraceful feeling towards the end of Daisy’s monologue. At a restaurant, Daisy and Cathy meet with an older man with “leathery skin.” He worked in the Foxconn factory for several years before mangling his right hand in a metal press used to produce iPads. After receiving no medical attention, the factory managers fired him for his slowness, but he luckily found more reasonable employment at a woodwork plant. The sad irony is that he’d never seen an iPad turned on before, but had lost the normal use of his hand in making one. Upon turning on Daisy’s iPad, his eyes glowed and the feelings of sacrifice and injustice washed over me.
Today, more hand-made products are produced in cheap-labor countries than ever before. However, I wonder if the cost of the inhumane practices embedded in the toys outweighs the ephemeral satisfaction of the end-user. Or simply, just how many broken eggs are worth one shiny, plastic omelet?