Wednesday, February 8, 2012

The Fountainhead

The recent Times piece about the explosion in the iPad plant in Chengdu (“In China, Human Costs Are Built Into an iPad,” NYT, 1/25/12) included the following statement, “In the last decade Apple has become one of the mightiest, richest and most successful companies in the world, in part by mastering global manufacturing. Apple and its high-technology peers—as well as dozens of other American industries—have achieved a pace of innovation nearly unmatched in modern history. However, the workers assembling iPhones, iPads and other devices often labor in harsh conditions according to employees inside those plants, worker advocates and documents published by companies themselves.” Was the Apple miracle too good to be true? Is it a little bit like Erica Jong’s “zipless fuck?” Is the Apple Store with its genius bar staffed by tattooed MIT grads on loan from Utopia, missionaries preaching the iCloud gospel rather than paid employees of an enterprise that marches to the beat of the Wall Street drummer, merely a mirage? The cover of Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs is almost as ubiquitous as the Apple logo, but who really reads what’s inside. Perhaps the messiah has come or maybe not. The Dickensian conditions that prevail in China’s factories are the dark side of a technology revolution propelled in part by Moore’s Law, which states that microprocessors will double in capacity on an approximately 18 months basis (new microprocessors beget new machines), in part by China’s desire for economic hegemony and in part America’s need to recapture the glory days of its own economic hegemony (Manifest Destiny in technology). Jobs was the Ubermensch, the Howard Roark of Ayn Rand’s Fountain Head, the one hope amidst the carnage of foreclosures, shut down automobile plants and the dying Detroit. An aluminum dust explosion, which could have  been avoided by something as simple as adequate ventilation killed two workers in Chengdu? Will it take another Triangle Shirt Company fire to finally halt the juggernaut we call progress? 

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