Oct 262012
 

I realize the title isn’t terribly descriptive, but it’s the last thing I wrote for this entry (aside from this sentence) and at this point every one of my brain cells is begging for a quick death.

By now, anyone who reads my blog knows about my deeply-seated and thoroughly corrosive hatred for Gizmodo – the site that I affectionately refer to as Jizzmodo. They’re a cross between TMZ and Engadget – if Engadget were penned by lobotomized macaques. They feign reporting the tech beat and, like most shitty free content providers in that market, they misreport on Apple consistently and shamelessly. Anything that Jizzmodo writes that has “Apple” in the title is guaranteed to be the narrative equivalent of a morbidly obese man wiping his ass with a bath towel.

The most recent “writer” to be designated as this week’s Apple bitcher is Sam Biddle, one of Jizzmodo’s legion of interchangable keyboard-wielding turds. Biddle’s turn at the piñata involves crafting one of the site’s bread-and-butter  specialties: attempting to scrutinize a successful Apple product launch using an ancient and thoroughly-debunked – but at one time contentious – piece of Apple “dirt”. Because Apple’s products are so much ridiculously better than anyone else’s, there’s actually only one issue that qualifies as “dirt” to the company’s critics. Yep: just when you thought we’d heard the last flapping of pendulous jowls on the topic, Jizzmodo wants to talk about how Apple’s latest product announcements will make the Chinese labor situation worse that it was at one time reported to be (which turned out not to be close to true). Let’s dive in and see what Mr. Biddle cares to offer us in the way of facts. Spoiler alert: there are none.

So many things are made in China: DVD players, handbags, adorable shoes, kitchen gadgets, watches, t-shirts, laptops, and more. Some of them are made in happy, shiny factories. Some are born out of deplorable labor conditions that ruin and cost lives. We usually don’t know which.

I’m personally unfamiliar with the “happy, shiny factories” in China. If you were expecting Biddle to give you an example of one of these jewels of humanitarian manufacturing…well…welcome to Jizzmodo. You’re in for a loooong read. If Jizzmodo’s typewriter monkeys had to be bothered to source their inflammatory exposition, the site simply wouldn’t exist.

But it’s different with Apple and its widely publicized manufacturing process: From Cupertino, we hear about the meticulous process created to make your perfect iPhone and iPad mini. From China, we hear about how that process involves child laborers,

BZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZT!

Every once in a while, the tuberculosis expectoration that is Jizzmodo prose can still raise one of my eyebrows. Biddle throws this out casually – of courseApple employs child labor. How do you clean those shell casings? Actually, as documented in Apple’s 2011 Supplier Responsibility Progress Report, of the 229 audits performed, there were a total of 6 cases of underaged labor – and these were caused because the companies “had insufficient controls to verify age or detect false documentation”. And what did Apple do when they found out about incidents of underaged labor? They had the children returned to school, made the supplier pay for the child’s education at a school of their choice, and made them pay the child at the same wages they received when they were working while they did it. In the 2012 report, there wasn’t a single case of child labor discovered. What does that tell us? Apple is interested in the quality of life of its employees up and down the supply chain because it’s the right thing to do. When they discover a violation, they take transparently-described steps to make it right, and then they go out and check it again. Iterative, demonstrated improvement. But Biddle  blurts out “Apple uses child labor” as if it were just a part of their core business. Fuck you, you lazy hack. You shouldn’t have a job writing for a PennySaver.

impossible expectations, and brutal management. And we accept it. We didn’t used to put up with Chinese labor violations—so why now? When did owning the best phone become worth letting people get hurt? Decades ago—decades which feel particularly stretched from today—concerns over the Chinese labor behind beloved American brands lead to investigations, outrage, boycotts, and, most importantly, reform. Nike shoes and Gap jeans flirted with grim stigma: They were tainted goods. An increasing number of Americans, armed with voting dollars and a vague sense of globalized ethics, didn’t feel comfortable wearing sweatshop apparel. They didn’t want to buy things that were made by children who lost fingers or women on half-day shifts in cramped sewing machine bunkers. Because dollars spent that way justified the process. When you wittingly buy something that creates bad for people anywhere in the world, you’re in on it—that’s simple enough. Their loss is your Game Boy.

We threatened to stop buying these things, or at least turn our nose up at them enough that the companies in question actually changed. In 1998, the New York Times reported on Nike’s Chinese atonement:

The campaign against sweatshops has gained momentum in the West in the last few years. Last month, for example, Nike Inc. bowed to pressure and agreed to far-reaching changes in labor practices at factories that churn out its shoes. Nike said it would raise the minimum age for new workers to 16, admit outsiders to inspect the factories, and improve air filtration to meet United States factory standards.

I’m pretty sure I’m older than Sam Biddle – old enough to actually remember the anti-Nike movement in a context that wasn’t distorted by the perspective of someone still wearing pull-ups. The reason this is relevant is that equating the sweatshop conditions tacitly endorsed by Nike to the conditions at factories like Foxconn is a fucking joke. Employees in real sweatshops were publicly beaten on the factory floor for falling behind schedule. Female workers were forced to pull down their pants in front of factory doctors to prove they were menstruating if they wanted a leave. I’m sure Jizzmodo’s editors are banking that the basement-dwellers that eat up the anti-Apple sentiment secreted daily don’t remember what real sweatshops were like. This selective – almost exclusive – treatment of relevant facts bundled with a lot of hand-waving and presented as an op-ed is quintessential Jizzmodo. It is why reading most of the site’s offerings will make you insane – or at least make you stupider.

And then Apple started making something more glorious and wallet-penetrating than Jordans, a manic status object which made Apple the largest company in the history of capitalism. The latest iPhone—the best phone ever made—is also “the most difficult device…ever assembled,” according to Foxconn executive who spoke to the Wall Street Journal. But, he added ominously, “Practice makes perfect.” Good thing, because perfection is what we expect after a year of aching anticipation, media hype, and general silicon lust. But in this case, practice meant pushing an already overworked, underpaid, underaged staff beyond the breaking point. According to China Labor Watch, fights broke out between employees, and workers went on strike on the iPhone 5 lines. Foxconn varyingly denied and downplayed the strike. Naturally. No workplace will ever admit its practices are causing workers to punch each other because they can’t cope with work.

I’ve worked in 2 places where people have attempted to – and in one case successfully managed to – punch one of their coworkers in the face. And these were places with fewer than 100 employees. So a reported fistfight in a factory employing 100,000 people is…what is it exactly? It’s a pile of shit stuffed into a box labeled “I need pageviews” and served up to people who either want to scoff at it (fanboys obviously) or cheer it on.

Paying into this system with a trip to the Apple store ought to be more than distasteful—we need to look hard at ourselves, our pockets, and Chinese strangers and think whether funding exploitation is fundamentally wrong. The reflection will only become more and more pressing: This week, the iPad mini joins the iPhone 5 as potential tumult kindling, using an almost identically perfectionist manufacturing process, and held to Jonny Ive’s crazed standards. “With tolerances measured in microns,” the iPad mini’s design page reads, “mono-crystalline diamond-cut edges, and sleek metallic finishes, iPad mini was designed and engineered to incredibly high standards.” It’s hard to say what this industrial gobbledygook means, other than the fact that it’s really, really complicated to make.

Paying into what system? The system that panders to shitty tech sites’ borderline libelous accusations of child labor – as opposed to pandering to a system that uses real child labor? This evil system where people get pissed off at each other – for reasons that may or may not have anything to do with the working conditions? And what’s your alternative to “funding exploitation”, Sam Biddle?

/crickets

I especially like the line “It’s hard to say what this industrial gobbledygook means” coming from a site that pretends to have technology credentials. I guess there is no level on which Jizzmodo doesn’t suck balls.

And after we’ve all appreciated such an amazing physical object, there’s no going back—not for us, not for China. Absolute perfection is the new standard, and once that standard becomes a marketing boon and engine for making a tremendous amount of money, Apple would be out of its corporate mind to retreat.We’re locked into this now, already taking perfection as a given.

Since Steve Jobs returned to Apple, was there a time that the company wasn’t obsessed with perfection? And how exactly does Apple wanting to produce and our desire to use more impressively designed and engineered technology translate into additional hardship?  From Foxconn’s CEO stating that the iPhone 5 was the hardest product to make? Something, something, something…it just does! At least rotund fraud Mike Daisey actually cited things in his rants – lies, granted, but at least they were specific. Biddle’s piece is a baselessly equating the evolution of Apple’s devices with misery for the people assembling them. I’d say he should be ashamed of his crayon scrawl, but no one at Jizzmodo has any shame left to leverage.

Foxconn’s scoffs and denials notwithstanding, our consumer role in the harming of Chinese laborers is clear.

That we pay them to assemble a product at wages superior to what they’d earn working a field? Got it.

The iPhone 5 is dizzyingly engineered, and requires equally dizzying manufacturing processes—something Apple actually created an HD video bragging about.

Using some industrial gobbledygook I don’t know anything about.

The minute complexity of the thing is a selling point, not a liability. If it didn’t require such masterful construction, it wouldn’t be an iPhone. And if it weren’t an iPhone, our Western gullets wouldn’t be foaming for it at the expense of Eastern lives. The construction is masterful. The iPad mini, which enjoys the same industrial perfection as the new iPhone, may very well subject those who build it to the same rigors.

Not that I’d care to do a little research on the topic. It’s all gobbledygook anyway!

We don’t know for sure yet, but there’s no reason to assume making a sophisticated, small tablet is going to be any kind of break for the workers.

You don’t know anything, Sam. Pick up a fucking book and write about something you do know. Throw down one fact – one thought-through argument. Or better yet, just stop writing altogether.

Either way, we already love the Mini for its industrial neatness, as we have and always will with the iPhone 5 and beyond. Who’s going to ever stop loving chamfers? So we should allow Chinese Laborers to better their lives making things for Westerners, but only if those things are of low quality or require little skill. But no matter how clean the lines and matte the metal, we still complain. Which has nothing to do with anything, but since I’ll probably be writing for sites of this caliber until I drink myself to death, I may as well run with it. It scratches! It’s making some kind of strange barely-audible rattling noise! It’s taking too long to ship! So the labor machine runs faster. Workers are asked to do more with the same bodies and same training, as if industriousness were as simple as turning a knob. It’s unfair, and it’s funded by us.

I have to work too hard for someone that makes more money than me. It’s unfair. Maybe Biddle sharpened his cynical worldview at an Occupy Wall Street protest. I’m hoping another round of protests springs up for the express benefit of not having to read him again anytime soon.

A causal chain here is short, neat, and cruel: we moan about the most infinitesimal of possible flaws with the wonder phone, hold up fists of money for it, and gripe for it to arrive.

I’m interested in this hypothetical “we” person. “We” is a hackneyed writer’s trope that attempts to engender camaraderie by joining the reader with the writer. It’s about as lazy and pandering as writing gets, but considering the forum, that’s certainly par.  If you think about it for a moment, the closet thing to this “we” entity is sites like Jizzmodo. “(M)oan(ing) about the most infinitesimal of possible flaws with the wonder phone” is their entire fucking business model – unless you count faux-humanitarian drivel like this. They are the bitch machine that runs this entire ring of oppression. But please, Sam, ignore all this irony and tell us more about why we should hate ourselves.

Apple tells Foxconn to run a tighter ship, and an already tight ship is squeezed to a breaking point.

Smashing metaphors together into an incoherent blob: another Jizzmodo specialty.

Foxconn pushes its workers to work harder and faster to satiate American detail lust. As substantiated by an account of fistfights on the iPhone 5 production line. Workers who are already working inordinately hard and fast, for very little money, and most likely, because working this aching onerous factory job is a little better than subsistance (sic) farming in a remote Chinese village. Remember: Some places in China are worse will never be a sound argument for Foxconn—cleaning septic tanks with a brush is better than with your tongue, but neither are good.

Now THAT’S a relevant analogy – it’s how I felt during the entire exercise of reading Biddle’s piece.

And so there they are, a seemingly inexhaustible pool of hundreds of thousands of workers who want something better than bad, and can be replaced at any time, for any reason, because people literally line up outside Foxconn for a brutal, monotonous place on the assembly line.

They line up to be treated like interchangeable pieces of shit. Man – those Asian people are weird.

These expendable workers are shoved harder and harder because we, indirectly, ask them to be. We demand the production, which worsens the production. And nobody can claim ignorance.

I’m not claiming ignorance – and because this is an issue that probably bought Nick Denton his 2nd diamond-encrusted yacht (christened PASSWORD) – very few people with access to the internet can claim ignorance. What people do to rationalize the existence of companies like Foxconn is ask themselves “what’s better?” Yes, the existence of a shitty, backbreaking agrarian alternate universe is a sound argument for Foxconn – and unlike Jizzmodo’s poorly-written, hilariously unsourced, Apple-bashing flavor of the week, I’m going to tell you why. Not too long ago, this country was fueled by the backbones of farmers who left their plots and plows for the allure of urban living. They were joined by immigrant workers in performing the tasks – shuttling the coal, cleaning the cisterns, manning the sweatshops – that made this country run. Their children, and then their grandchildren, were afforded the opportunities to become better and better educated. They graduated from colleges, then graduate schools. They ascended the class ladder to become doctors, lawyers and CEOs. Look at the biography of any successful person over the age of 50 and read about what their parents did for work. Many parts of China are still in the process of transforming from their ubiquitous rural roots to lifestyles that are more affluent. The road there, like the road beaten – and built by – the lower class in this country 100 years ago sucks a lot of the time, but it’s one that must be traveled.

Foxconn scandals make regular headlines.

Because everyone – including the scut peddlers at Jizzmodo – thrive on them.

It’s possible your PS3 is built with this same kind of forced-march, pressure-cooker mentality. It’s possible your HTC tablet is made illegally by underage, underpaid kids. It’s possible almost every major gadget company has just as much sweat on its hands as Apple—and if we knew they did, they’d deserve all the same scrutiny and scorn. But we don’t know.

Biddle doesn’t know. For those of us interested in knowing – or who aren’t too lazy to write something without backing it with facts – or those of us who don’t have a horribly-argued ax to grind, there’s a wealth of knowledge out there about child labor abuses – real ones – at Samsung’s own factories. Not the ones they contract for assembly; the ones they run. Microsoft’s contracted facility had a mass suicide threat this year. But it’s easier for Biddle – again lamely attempting to enjoin his readers with the “we” convention – to feign not knowing. The entirety of his piece consists of shrugged shoulders and one unfounded allegation after another.

That’s the entire world of difference—we do know how bad it is on the iPhone assembly lines, and we keep feeding them dollars. When you spend hundreds on your Apple handset, you slide that credit card with knowledge of where and how it came to be. You know about the suicides, the strikes, the fights, the cramped dorms, the on-site therapy, and the explosions. When you trade your money for a phone that comes from one of these places, you’re guaranteeing that more phones will be built just like that. You’re saying, at the very least, That’s bad, but not as bad as me not having this phone.

You’re also playing a part in the industrialization of another country – providing an opportunity for that person, or perhaps that person’s children, to have a better life than the one they came from. It might be jarring, depressing and exhausting, but it’s opportunity just the same. And if you think for a second that by choosing not to buy that phone, if it were made 10 million times every quarter, would benefit those lives, you’re a straight-up jackass. Just like Sam Biddle.

We’d never say that about a shirt or a shoe or a blood diamond, which shows just how much tremendous cultural power Apple has. Cachet that kills.

The only thing it shows is how superlatively shitty that comparison is. And in a piece littered with wrenchingly putrid pustules of the written language, that’s saying something.

Apple now sells things good enough to displace the commonsense ethical judgments we’d normally make—China has always been far away from us as shoppers, but it’s never been so far out of reach that bad labor always escapes reform. The iPhone, it would seem, has reached that distance.

Reform, you say? Kind of like all of the work Apple is doing with their supply chain? The audits and reporting that no other consumer electronics maker can hold a candle to; or partnering with the FLA, which none of these other “we don’t know for sure they’re bad because we’re too fucking lazy to research it” tech companies have the character or backbone to do? That kind of reform? But those facts wouldn’t help Biddle’s DURRR APPLE BAD point. Not that anything he’s written does either.

Conscious or not, I made the choice of super-phone over other humans when I went to the AT&T store last month. Sometimes I wish I hadn’t, but it’s too late: I’m complicit in whatever bad is happening in Shenzhen. But with no reason to believe things are getting any cheerier at Foxconn, I have to ask myself if it’ll be the last time. Or, at the very least, wonder when we started caring more about cool new gadgets and less about the suffering of other people.

For God’s sake, Sam, rise above the bullshit emo self-reflection and listen to your conscience. Return that iPhone before your 30 day return window closes. And please – never buy an Apple product again. If you truly believe all of the things you’ve written – about your purchase directly contributing to other peoples’ abject misery – you’d be a horrible human being if you didn’t march that evil device right back to its sweatshop facilitators and tell them to shove it.

It’s much more likely that your shame and outrage is manufactured by a machine much more efficient that anything that exists in Shenzhen. It’s the Jizzmodo pageview machine, one of the most sustainable contraptions on the planet. Fueled by 5th grade prose, unsubstantiated hyperbole and outright lies, it converts literary shit into Gawker gold. Now Sam: grab your shovel and get back to work.

 Posted by at 3:36 pm  Tagged with:

  9 Responses to “Gizmodo Is Just Awful”

  1. Brilliant!

  2. /slow clap

  3. Hey MA, hope all is well in your neck of the woods…my little area in bklyn was mercifully spared the flooding and outages – not sure where you are, but hoping you got missed as well.
    Good luck!

  4. Interesting factoid: a factory worker in China earns 2.5 times more than a factory worker in Mexico. This is the reason that drug gangs have a never ending supply of young cannon fooder. Where is the self-righteous American outrage? Actually, the food at the factory in the IBM/Foxconn factory that is in my mexican city is now better than what it was when the industrial park was exclusively of IBM 15 years ago. Sadly, wages are in real terms much lower across the board.

  5. The outrage is reserved almost exclusively for companies like Apple that make wildly popular products. You can bet if Apple contracted with Foxconn to manufacture in Mexico, the dregs of the tech press would be right there creating outrage from ether. The sad truth is that much tech reporting swapped journalistic integrity for contention seeding. It’s a race to the bottom where everyone loses.

  6. Gizmodo isn’t “just awful”.

    It’s also idiotic, mendacious, vile, hideous, appalling, disgusting, horrible, stultifying, devoid of merit, devoid of integrity, devoid of dignity, and if your nose is sensitive enough, it causes a subtle-yet-foul odor to emanate from your computer speakers.

    (The last one is highly speculative, but wouldn’t be terribly surprising if it were true.)

  7. @blaargh: We did OK. Down a few shingles and without power for about a day, but otherwise unscathed.

  8. Good to hear. Hopefully that means more updates soon… I can’t believe the idiocy coming out of Balmer’s mouth hole… seems ripe for a MA rant.

  9. Unfortunately, I haven’t mastered the Jizzmodo model for monetizing my content, and the day job’s been kind of painful as of late. Thankfully, there’s no shortage of people saying stupid things about the Apple universe, so I’ll be back.

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