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No New Gear till it stops.
9 points by WalterSear on Feb 6, 2012 | hide | past | favorite | 15 comments
I've decided not to buy any more electronic gear unless/until:

A) It replaces something that broke B) I need it professionally and there are no alternatives that allow me to do my job. C) I can be reasonably sure that the main component isn't human misery.

My actions aren't going to change anything, and the immediate effects will involve some discomfort (yes, yes, first world problems, most of my electronic goods are over 3 years old, and falling apart, but not quite dead), but I no longer feel like I have a choice in the matter, unless I'm willing to break my overarching policy of No Assholery. Well, to be frank, a little assholery, but only towards specific targets.

I'm tempted to put up a website, try and start a petition, or something. I don't think this will fly much, but I'm not going to stand idly by.

Is this a reasonable response to the working conditions in China? With family members regularly visiting the production lines as part of their job, I know it's not all FoxConn, and that the people there are genuinely grateful for the opportunity. Doesn't change the fact that they aren't being treated fairly.

I want no part of it. How about you?

This can have some interesting side-benefits from a hackerly perspective. Out of a mixture of frugality and fondness for the compact form-factor, I used my 12" G4 PowerBook way past its prime, which towards the end was an interesting exercise in both cross-platform compatibility (after Apple's x86 switch), and in optimizing my desktop experience to use more efficient apps and setups. I've often thought there would be some benefits (admittedly offset with some downsides) if hardware actually moved slower, and people kept their machines for, say, 2x as long on average.

Even with things like game consoles, I think the progress of technology means we move on before we really understand what a machine can do. I recently read a book on the Atari VCS, which fairly convincingly argued that during its short commercial life only a small portion of the platform's design space was really explored (http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/026201257X/ref=as_li_ss_tl?...).

Admittedly those are pretty different kinds of motivations than the ethical issues around production.

The Chinese government desperately needs to create jobs, and the only way to create large amounts of jobs fit for unskilled labor is industrial scale manufacturing and building infrastructure.

But there is a problem. Manufacturing in the developed world has become largely mechanized and thus ever cheaper over the past decades.

That means that in order to be competitive on the world market the Chinese worker needs compete with machines. The reason this is possible at all is the (still) low standard of living prevalent in China at the moment that allows for a low labor cost.

Rest assured that companies like Foxconn would like nothing better than to automate most jobs, and they would do it in an instant weren't it for the Chinese government.

But there's a catch. As the people become wealthier they also gain more power and influence and will demand their rights (as they are slowly doing now) at which point the number of people employed in the industry will start to decline sharply as they will become less and less profitable. Sounds familiar, doesn't it?

So,if you wan't to better working conditions and consequently more unemployment in China you can do so by buying their stuff, boycotting their products will just make them worse off and jobless.

On the contrary. The factory workers of today need to be provided with a living wage, that will support upward mobility of the workforce.

Supporting the status quo is just resigning to the fact that they will be fucked no matter what, and so why not take part?

Cheap labour is just one of a number of advantages that China has in regards to tech manufacturing. I read recently, I beleive in the NYT, that versatile and rapibly retoolable manufacturing capabilities are actually more attractive than the labour costs.

Consequently, it's reasonable to expect reasonable wages and conditions: they aren't a block to growth.

I have basically lived in hacker terms what you describe for about two years, accidentally (e.g., no new gadgets, happening to fit similar terms.) Developing more and more, I've recently been planning my entry into Appledom (from old T510/N900). Then I heard the This American Life piece linked on this page and was pretty struck by it for some personal reasons as well (nothing to do with heritage). So, back to the pressing need--justifying consumerism as it is. My best friend is a business PhD and the staunchest libertarian that I know, so I knew that he could settle me down. What was the root of it?:

This is better than the alternatives where it takes place. Nobody holds a gun to anybody's head (okay somebody can probably cite examples and that would be valid but this is not what we are discussing I believe). Yes, it sucks. Development is painful a lot of the time.

Could it get better, faster? Sure. But the current situation, while it may be sad and horrible and caring people should enact change, is not occurring by force. Somehow, during the time while I consumed media on this topic, my mind had unknowingly removed the significance of that bit.

Edit: sp

I think what you are missing from this is the culture in China. If you heard the NPR special - they do as they are told: it does not even occur to them that things ought to be different, even when given a permanent disabilty to speed up the production line.

You may be interested in this site: http://lastyearsmodel.org/

I get satisfaction from using items for an extended period of time, but that's mostly from frugality. I think I'll upgrade my 4 year old phone this year because I could do with a good camera.

The simple solution to this is to buy used gear. I avoid sweatshop produced clothing by mostly buying used, and I've recently decided to avoid buying new technology. We've hit a point where a faster computer doesn't make as much of a difference as it used to for many many things. vim doesn't run faster on a i7 MacBook Pro than it does on an four year old MacBook.

Sure the person I buy the used gear from will probably use that money to buy a new system, but the older it is, the less I'm contributing to their purchase.

I generally do so, but I don't feel that this is doing enough any more. I'm still collaborating in the abuse, just sharing a portion of the blame.

I listened to a fascinating podcast on FoxConn on This American Life. It certainly opened my eyes a bit.


Yes, I heard that. It's a great thing to point people towards who feel vague about the issue.

I'm tempted to put up a website, try and start a petition, or something. I don't think this will fly much, but I'm not going to stand idly by. Is this a reasonable response to the working conditions in China?

No. It's a lacking response. Read the award winning "Nickel and Dimmed" to see how those very conditions, or very similar to them, also occur "at home":


Then do something about it, like denouncing any race-to-the-bottom for wages, and any lax attitude toward working conditions, and refusing to buy from the cheaper place.

Also don't take crap from neoliberals, including supposedly "progressive" nobel prize winners like Paul Krugman, that, from his comfy chair says that having the chinese workers work in dire conditions is better than not giving them work at all --as if this is the distinction that matters. How about giving them the work ALONG with the respect and pay they deserve for doing it? How about demanding that they get paid better and work in better conditions, or fine all and any companies that employee them (actually fine, like in "sanctions", not just individually refusing to buy their stuff)?

As an aside, next time your boss wants you to work unpaid overtime for long stretches? Just say no. Be warned though, that unlike some token feel-good action ("I won't get an iPad 3"), this might/will have real consequences. But if enough people do this, and insist of properly enforced regulations on the matter, it will stop the race-to-the-bottom in US workplaces too. Competitiveness has nothing to do with being a slave.

Your points are all valid, and well-stated. In addition, I think there's a place for direct action with your buying power. Workers will continue to work under worse and worse conditions until consumers say "Stop--there's no justification for doing that, not even for profit!" If not now, will we still be buying products when a worker dies for every 10 units (of whatever) made? Every 5?

As it turns out, I have a petition, at http://www.change.org/petitions/tell-apple-you-wont-contribu.... This is not just a petition, but rather a boycott: to not buy Apple products until Apple increases vendor compliance to its "standards of worker conditions" audit by 11% (from 74% now to 85%).

Why Apple? Because Apple is trying to do better; because it's extremely visible; because it can afford to better than most companies; because so many people want its products; because changing Apple will be a tremendous start toward changing the rest of the electronics industry.

I really want a new iPod touch, but I signed this petition. Please consider signing. Please consider what it means not to sign. Thanks for listening.

All that Apple is trying to do better is hide the problem. This behaviour is the true legacy of Steve Jobs.

It's been aware of the situation for more than half a decade. It pretends it does not have oversight, when anyone in tech manufacturing can tell you this is patently impossible.

In any case, I'm signing it.

Workers will continue to work under worse and worse conditions until consumers say "Stop--there's no justification for doing that, not even for profit!"

True. And the craziest thing is that the consumers and the workers are mostly the same population. It's not like dirt poor people in China produce and rich guys in Malibu consume. Most consumption if from ordinary families, workers, the middle class etc.

The problem is that people think in "modes", so when in "consumer mode" they go for the cheapest stuff. This would make sense if price paid was all there is to it, but they forget that by doing so they also alter the balance with regards to work and wages, something that will in turn affect them as workers.

From fewer factories being built in their country, to office jobs getting worse conditions, to the disappearance of the middle class, to the economy tumbling down. Henry Ford is said to have said: "If I don't pay them [his workers] more, who will buy my cars?".

Its better the op take on his little piece of the pie, and not the whole world. It really is an uphill battle since the powers that be are expert in making ~4yr old tech totally obsolete.

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