Monday, July 30, 2012

John Biggs, Foxconn apologist, has written a brief, content-free piece about the new version of AGONY/ECSTASY which he hasn't seen.

As is Biggs' style, he capitalizes on what he perceives as my weakness to score points for his world view.

We are in a post “magic” era, when we are beginning to understand two things: first, that the business of making hardware is difficult, dirty, and boring and second that we have outsourced so much of our manufacturing might and we are trying to understand the implications of walking it back.

This is soaking in neoliberal brine—I love the idea that we are "beginning to understand" these things, as though we aren't responsible for the years and years that we've been doing them up until now. The "magic" he's talking about here is simply the conventional denialism people use not to see where their shit comes from. One of the reasons we begin to understand these things is we finally feel called to account for the things we are doing: artists, activists, and radicals in our society often have the role of talking about things we don't want to speak about.

The first of the two things he identifies here, that the business of making hardware is "difficult, dirty, and boring" is true. The question is why is it this way—especially the dirty part? Why does it have to be dirty? It's self-evident that Apple has the margins to pay a living wage in the region for its workers, and the labor conditions that exist at Foxconn are in violation of China's own laws. No one can contest those facts. Apple has chosen, for years, to drag its feet—and helped enable Foxconn to do the same.

The second point appears to be about outsourcing, and what it would mean to bring those jobs back to America. This isn't something I'm particularly interested in with the electronics industry—my focus has been, and continues to be, on the conditions on the ground for the workers, not trying to take those jobs away from them.

Daisey built a fantasy that revolved around the idea of the Dickensian workhouse as written by Huxley. Realizing the banality of what manufacturing really was – long, boring hours spent doing the same thing over and over – he had to add dramatic spark.

That sounds great, except that I never do that. The monologue actually specifically addresses this image in the section on the factory floor:

And why wouldn’t there be? You know when we dream of a future when the regulations are washed away and the corporations are finally free to sail above us, you don’t have to dream about some sci-fi-dystopian-Blade-Runner-1984-bullshit.

What I describe is what the factory floors look like:

Industrial spaces with twenty, twenty-five, thirty thousand workers in a single enormous space, they can exert a kind of eerie fascination—there’s a beauty to industrialization on such a massive scale. You don’t have to deny it—there’s a wonder to seeing so much order laid out in front of you.

Tech writers like Biggs are constantly upset that I made a "Dickensian fantasy". When you read the NGO reports, and marinate in the accounts of companies throughout the Special Economic Zone, you come to realize quickly that it isn't a fucking fantasy. Someone wake me up when they can find I included a bunch of orphans getting gruel and singing that one awesome song from Oliver!

Daisey’s play runs until August 5 and it’s my sincere hope that he’s done with it after that date. It’s no longer topical – when ABC takes cameras into Foxconn, you’re pretty much past the mainstream and into irrelevancy – and it’s definitely not true.

John Biggs is an incredible fucking tool.

First, it isn't over August 5th—it's booked in the fall, in rep with other monologues I'm working on. And there have been over 30 productions already, in other theaters with other actors around the world, so it isn't going anywhere in any event.

Second, if you think "topical" has any part of this conversation—if you think this is an "issue" that goes "cold" and then we move on to jerking off to the iPhone 5 or the latest Olympic brouhaha—you're an even bigger fucking tool.

Third, I was doing this piece YEARS before Biggs went over there to suck at Foxconn's teat and run a series of TechCrunch pieces that praised its incredible efficiency, where he proudly didn't even blink. He loved Foxconn, and he swallowed everything they had to say without bothering to check in with any dissenting views.

And not true?

Biggs manages to write this entire piece about Foxconn and myself and somehow forget to mention the FLA audits from just months ago, and their findings. He doesn't mention the SACOM reports that show nothing changing at the plants. Omission is the favorite lie of the journalist, because they can never factcheck you for it.

While I agree that all workers everywhere should get a living wage, building a moral iPhone or Nexus 7 may cost us more than we can pay.

I love the weasel word "may".

Yes, all sorts of things "may" happen. But Biggs is well aware that the labor cost of an iPhone accounts for 1% of its cost, or around $6-$7. So if those costs *doubled*, or even *tripled*, you are talking about a $15 premium. But by using the word "may" he doesn't have to show any work, and he can simply shrug and say, "Well, the world is complex…and we will never know." Except that we do.

He closes with this:

Hardware manufacturers are strapped to a machine whose engine is commerce and whose fuel is neophilia. The machine has to move, no matter what any playwright has to say. How humanely it moves, however, is up to us.

First—when the fuck did this "playwright" try to stop the machine? I've been really fucking clear about what I'm looking for, and it has never involved throwing wrenches into the Great Machines and ending all the factories in a Glorious Revolution. Right after they charge me with being Dickensian, they like to imagine I'm actually storming the barricades on Bastille Day.

Second—I love that he ends with something I actually believe in: that how humanely it moves is up to us. This moment is one that humanizes Biggs to me, and it's better than some. I recognize Biggs—he wants living wages, but it's too much trouble to do the work to get them. He thinks things could be humane, but that will take effort, and it would be easier not to try.

Finally, I'd like to address this:

We’ve tried to invite Daisey back a few times to talk but near his spin-out he refused.

I was refusing long before that. I was refusing even when it looked like I'd have the advantage, but I could not imagine how it would be worthwhile.

John Biggs is the Thomas Friedman of tech journalism. I can barely imagine spending time in a room debating with the insufferable Mr. Friedman. Debating Mr. Biggs would be like spending time locked in a room with Mr. Friedman's less talented, less articulate younger brother.