Apple … oh Apple


 

I grew up going to mostly evangelical Christian churches (…wait, I promise this is going somewhere). And in many ways it is a wonderful upbringing (…wait !). There is kinship, commonality and ‘love’ abounding. At times there can be a sense of moral supremacy about it, but at its best, there is sympathy for those who aren’t like ‘us’ and who don’t know the ‘truth’. Especially if you don’t ask too many difficult questions. Which you shouldn’t do. Really. You shouldn’t. Even when it’s really tempting (it’s coming…).

And when you do ask difficult questions about certain things in your chosen religion, it shouldn’t be a surprise if people start to look at you quite strangely when you point out the flaws in your/their value systems. Like all the scientific evidence pointing to the Earth being much older than 6,000 years or the fundamental flaws in logic that pervade almost all religions (Flying Spaghetti Monster anyone?). But the ensuing strange looks almost inevitably are a surprise, because you still identify as an insider with the values that they (and most likely you) continue to hold. And you want them to be like you. Or you want to be like them. Desperately. Because you don’t want to be one of those disillusioned, angry and ‘astray’ peoples … and yet it’s just so difficult to let things go, so you ask questions to see where it goes … and to satiated the doubt.

More recently I have worshipped at the cult of Mac, where the holy trinity of Apple, Jobs and ‘i’ have been venerated. I’ve converted friends in shops and even been known to be an Apple evangelist at pubs (“The end of the Windows is nigh – who does Gates think he is!”).

I got my first Mac in 2007. And even though the sales assistant was an idiot, who couldn’t differentiate between … well… stuff that mattered, I was converted. Converted in spite of the ridiculous barriers to switching. In fact, I convinced myself that it must have been worthwhile because of the barriers to switching. On my first day, I had no idea how to open a new file, let alone reach the giddy heights of productivity I had been able to achieve on my Intel Inside Dell (that’s one brand … right?).

I am still using the same Mac (5 years later!) and am likely to continue to do so for another several years, which is remarkable in the world of tech. It is robust and still somewhat upgradable (a miracle in the world of Mac!) and does everything I need it to be able to do, including some serious photo crunching in Photoshop.  I was so enamoured with my new religion that I even bought a Macbook Air in 2008, which is also still a central feature on train journeys (ooooohhhhh, it’s soooo supermodel thin –  shame it can’t really do anything). I shunned the ‘fresh’ worship of the iPhone until it matured in version 3. I like my worship songs quite polished; not worship led by an Organ  (cut and paste anyone?). And I upgraded according to the penance offered by my service provider to an iPhone 4. And it had all been going really well. Until my old friend doubt crept into the picture. Friends started whispering and pointing toward my iDevice, but they would stop just as I could start to catch what they were saying. It all got too much for me one day and I confronted one of them.

What’s up? It’s the coolest device on the planet!

[Care-about-the-world Charity-Type with smug smile] Yes, but life isn’t just about cool is it?

What, why not?

Well, our purchasing decisions communicate something to manufacturers.

I know, I’m communicating my faith … um, in technology.

Yes, of course you are. But Apple don’t look after things very well, do they?

Well, they leave consumers of tech that is 2 or 3 generations old out in the cold, but those people really should upgrade!

Yes, but they demand upgrades every year, and they just don’t care about workers in their supply chain or about recycling. 

I know, you’re right, but it’s just too hard to walk away. I love Apple.

I know. 

I have to change that, don’t I?

Do you?

No. So?

Recently I’ve been questioning my ‘religion’. Especially as the awareness of CSR has increased. (Really? Children in India burn stacks of tech in order to s/melt and extract the infinitesimally small amounts of rare earth minerals, meaning that they only live for 30 years or less? Really?). And the conversations haven’t gone well. Sales assistants have just looked blankly.

Yeah look, I really get that the iPad is cool and functional and umm, what did you call it?

[Blue t-shirt cool dude] Magical? [grin]

Yeah, magical. But I’m just a bit worried that Mary’s not a virgin … I mean that it’s not entirely as good for the environment as it could be. Or that the FoxConn workers have been … well … Conned. Foxed.

What?

You know, is it sourced … well … ethically?

What? It’s magical. It’s got ground up Unicorn in it. 

Yeah, that’s exactly what I’m worried about. I’m not sure I can buy something with ground up Unicorn.

Why not? It’s magical!

Well, ummm … sure, but I’m not sure, but aren’t you worried about your personal salvation? Have you accepted iUnicorn as your personal lord and savoir faire?

What?

Exactly.

Apple’s real genius has always been in its ability to ask very hard questions about the suitability of technology. I’ve never heard HTC even pause to ask whether it should add a processor, and a graphics card and a … to their packages. They just make it better, faster, smaller and to hell with the consequences. To this day, one of my favorite phones was the HTC Magician from 2003 – an amazing device in context. But its battery life was terrible unless you were vigilant about what was running at any given time, and Windows Mobile – my goodness….

And the reasons why Apple hasn’t let the raw number of functions get ahead is because it put reliability, usability and practicality first. It changed the market for mobile phones by stopping the trend toward multi-tasking and only allowing a phone to do one or two things at a time. In doing so, it annoyed techno-propellor-head types, but extended battery life almost exponentially. It is Apple’s ability to make better use of the same technology that everyone else has access to that has consistently set it apart from other manufacturers.

I think there was a time when I could conceivably have bought iPads and iPhones for myself, my wife, and possibly even my unborn children, but I had doubts. And the questions weren’t going away. In fact, the more questions I asked the more difficult it was to conclude that Apple was a responsible choice to make as a consumer. Especially one who buys fair-trade coffee, chooses public transport over a car and walks as often as possible. And besides, hasn’t Apple heard about what happened to Nike? Why weren’t they taking this issue seriously.

And so I got to the point where I started to look into purchasing a non-Apple piece of technology, and have postponed the purchase of an iPad, which is otherwise a brilliant device. But it turns out that almost no-one is doing it better than Apple. OK, so Nokia is doing a bit better, at least according to Greenpeace, but their phones are rubbish, and they’re now wedded to Windows Phone and I’m not doing that again.

Which is why it is so difficult to understand Apple’s reluctance to embrace CSR as a way to drive change through its supply chain, and to create further brand trust. Especially because they are otherwise doing several poster-person things like this. Mike Daisy conducted an investigation into Apple, and it left me a little chilled. Watch him on YouTube talking about it, or listen to it on This American Life, one of my favourite podcasts. It seems as though Apple’s suppliers are doing all manner of things to ensure that their workers aren’t happy, or especially healthy. Which isn’t really that surprising. How exactly did I think that Apple made all that money?

I find myself unable to conclude that buying Apple is OK. But I also find myself unable to concluding that it’s OK to buy anything else. I don’t buy into the rhetoric that FoxConn workers only commit suicide at the same rate as the general population. For starters, the general population dont usually commit suicide at work. For seconds, the statistics for suicide are higher among jobless and homeless people, so it’s not a fair comparison – the proper baseline for comparison is much lower and therefore the suicide rate is comparatively and shockingly high. Which means I don’t necessarily trust the rhetoric of Apple, and need to ask harder questions.

Now I don’t know whether Steve Jobs was a Psychopath (although it’s difficult as an outsider not to conclude that he lacked a certain empathy in certain situations), but I know that the transformation of Apple toward more responsible manufacturing has started, and started well before his recent death. Like just about everything they do, Apple has been tackling this issue behind closed doors; probably for 1 or 2 years. And, just like Apple, when it first weighed in on this issue, it took the unprecedented step of letting people know the full extent of its supply chain, including disclosure of a number of labour issues. It has even admitted that it has a human rights problem, even at the same time as it topped a reputation poll. They also seem to have as strong an appetite to do something about their Foxconn issues as anyone else. They seem to be following good advice on Making the sustainable supply chain puzzle simpler, and although they still aren’t being entirely transparent, they have come leaps and bounds in a very short time. But at the same time they seem to be engaging in Twitter censorship. And continuing to insist that workers in their supply chain are gagged from issues that don’t relate to competitive advantage.

Just like any crisis of faith, I see some things I like, but some responses still leave me cold. For now, my faith in the cult of Apple is on notice. Notice that I don’t like their ignorance of the blindingly obvious for many years. Notice that their lack of sympathy with others who aren’t like them isn’t good enough. Notice of the fact that they should know better than to ignore supply chain and human rights issues. But I’m not going to sell any of my Apple tech in any kind of iBurning. At least not yet.

I might buy Apple again in the future, but I’m certainly suspending purchase decisions until I know more. And I’m guessing that in the cult of Mac, such a decision is probably a heresy. No Steve, I won’t drink the Kool Aid.

What are you thinking on buying Apple? If you want to let Apple know you’re not entirely happy, sign up here:

http://www.change.org/petitions/apple-ceo-tim-cook-protect-workers-making-iphones-in-chinese-factories

 

 

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One comment

  1. Lisa says:

    So glad to finally hear someone speak up about this! It annoys me no end the way people ‘worship’ apple and completely ignore its filthy supply chain. I have decided to not buy apple (even though I would dearly love an iphone, I have a nokia which is ok, but I do have iphone envy) and am praying my 9 year old ipod doesn’t die anytime soon because I just can not justify giving my money to this company that treats humans so poorly and from what I’ve read uses conflict minerals in the making of its products. (check out The Enough Project – they did a rating on most tech companies and how clean their supply chain was of conflict minerals – I believe it’s since been disputed, but in my experience there usually isn’t smoke without some sort of fire…)

    Apple is such a successful (read: rich) company that has chosen to not clean up its supply chain while it continues to make enormous profit after profit after profit. It could if it wanted to, but it hasn’t. And I hate that people just seem to ignore this fact because they have pretty (and yes, very clever) gadgets. And I also hate when I see groups like The Ethical Consumer Guide and the Free2Work campaign have iphone apps!! Such a double standard.

    Ok. rant over.

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