The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs, Part Nine

This is Part Nine, the final chapter, of “The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs” by Mike Daisey, the 2011 Trading 8s “Journalist of the Year”. If you haven’t been following along, I encourage you to start from the beginning. And, if at all possible, I encourage you to go see Daisey perform this masterpiece in person. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. Spread the virus.

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9. “A Virus of the Mind”
by Mike Daisey

I used to hear from Steve Jobs occasionally.

Never directly.

I don’t even think he knew I heard from him.

Because people who have sat in the seats you are sitting in right now, in theaters all over the world, sometimes, after they heard the words you have been hearing, sometimes, they would write to him.

And sometimes they would cc me and bcc me, and I would see hundreds of messages flooding out to a single fixed point, filled with questions. And sometimes, an answer would come back.

And sometimes, they would forward his answers to me.

And there were all kinds. Sometimes a short, sharp word, sometimes a link, sometimes a simple line of text:

“Mike doesn’t appreciate the complexities of the situation.”

And I looked on every message that came back with hope.

And I would keep my head down. And I would tell my story, night after night. In city after city.

And when tech journalists would let themselves be flown all the way to Shenzhen in the company of PR reps for Foxconn, and walk around the gleaming factories, and then write cover stories for glossy magazines without ever speaking to a single worker…

…I would keep my head down. And I would tell my story.

And when the press would ask Steve Jobs, “Steve, what’s up with Foxconn? What’s it like?” and Steve Jobs would say, “Gosh, it’s a factory, but it’s not like any factory we’ve ever seen. It has swimming pools and movie theaters—it’s amazing.”

I would keep my head down. And I would tell my story.

And when Apple would call journalists who had spoken to me, and tell them, “You know, I don’t know if you want to be associated with him. He’s kind of unstable. You know, he does work in the theater.”

I would keep my head down. And I would tell my story.

And tonight—we know the truth.

You can read it in the newspapers, it is humming in the radio, reflecting in the televisions, it is all across the net. Everyone is learning it, day after day. It is too large for any PR department to contain.

We now know that it is everything you have heard tonight and it is more. We now know that they knew. They always knew. They turned their back on their workers a long time ago.

And they squeezed their margins so tight that they made much of what you have heard tonight happen. And they made themselves the most profitable company in the history of the world.

And Steve Jobs—this genius of design and form—blinded himself to the most essential law of design: that the way in which a thing is made is a part of the design itself.

But you won’t forget that, will you?

You won’t forget that…because tonight is a virus.

It started in the first scene but you couldn’t feel it.

And by the third scene, it had jumped your firewalls and it’s been leaping from protected memory to protected memory all night long.

It’s been re-writing your code from the inside out and I’m letting you know now, you will never be rid of it.

It is inside of you, just like it’s inside of me, twisting and wriggling. And when these lights come up, when this theatrical construct falls away, it will still be in you.

You will carry it out these doors, you will be vectors for it. You will carry it to your homes, and when you sit down in front of your laptops, when you open them up, you will see the blood welling up between the keys. You will know that those were made by human hands. You will always know that. When you take your phones out outside to check the time, and the light falls across your face, you will know that it may have been made by children’s hands. You will know that.

And you will live with it. Just as I live with it. Just as we’re all going to have to start seeing it if we’re going to make the shift.

Tonight, the door is open if you want to walk through it.

Tonight we are jailbroken.

Tonight we are free.

The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs, Part Eight

This is Part Eight of “The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs” by Mike Daisey, the 2011 Trading 8s “Journalist of the Year”.

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8. “The Secret Union”
by Mike Daisey

I’m at a restaurant in the factory zone, seated at a table with Cathy, and this aphorism is running through my head over and over again—I can’t remember who said it originally—that paranoia is not paranoia when they’re actually out to get you.

And I go through my checklist again: I’ve gone through my pockets and found every slip of paper with an email address or a phone number and I’ve destroyed all of those. I’ve hidden all my paper notes off of my person, and I’ve erased everything on my laptop, and anything I can’t erase is on an encrypted partition that I hope is encrypted enough. I have done all of these things because I am at this restaurant to meet with a union.

Because there are unions in China. There are the ones that are fronts for the Communist Party, and then there are actual unions, interested in labor reform. They’re called “secret unions” because in China, if you are caught being a member of or affiliating with a union like that, you go to prison. You go to prison for many years, and that’s why I’ve had to take these precautions.

And getting this meeting involved climbing a ladder of associations, going to meeting after meeting, and each step of way just making good my intentions, just being clear that I am a storyteller, that I just want to hear people’s stories, I just want to hear what they have to say.

And the union organizers come in and sit down, and it’s awkward at first, and then they tell me about the situation on the ground. There is so much turmoil in southern China, so much happening just beneath the surface. And they tell me about the two Honda plants that have gone on strike in the north of the province and how they helped organize that strike, and I think about what it would mean to go on strike in a country where even being a member of a union can get you thrown in prison, what it would take to be pushed to that point.

And these organizers are young. They don’t even look college-aged, they look younger than that. And I say to them, “How do you know who’s right to work with you? How do you find people to help you organize, to do what you do?”

And this sort of breaks the narrative, and they look at each other bashfully, and they say, “Well, we talk a lot, we have a lot of meetings—we meet at coffeehouses, different Starbucks in Guangzhou, we exchange papers, sometimes there are books…”

And it’s so clear, in this moment, that they are making this up as they go along.

The way so many of us do.

The way pirates do. The way rebels do.

The way the crazy ones who change the world do—they all make it up as they go along.

Then the workers start coming in. They come in twos and threes and fours, they come in all day—it’s a nine, ten hour day. I interview all of them. Some of them are in groups—there’s a group there talking about hexane.

Hexane is an iPhone screen cleaner; it’s great because it evaporates a little bit faster than alcohol does, which means then you can run the production line even faster and try to keep up with those quotas. The problem is that hexane is a potent neurotoxin, and all these people have been exposed. Their hands shake uncontrollably, some of them can’t even pick up a glass.

I talk to people whose joints in their hands have disintegrated from working on the line, doing the same motion hundreds and hundreds of thousands of times. It’s like carpal tunnel on a scale we can scarcely imagine. And you need to know that this is eminently avoidable: if these people were rotated monthly on their jobs this would not happen—but that would require someone to care. That would require someone at Foxconn and the other suppliers to care, that would require someone at Apple and Samsung and the other customers to care; currently, no one in the ecosystem cares enough to even enforce that.

And so, when you start working at fifteen or sixteen, by the time you are twenty-six, twenty-seven—your hands are ruined.

And when they are truly ruined, once they will not do anything further—you know what you do with a defective part in a machine that makes machines.

You throw it away.

And the thing that unites all these people is that they are all the kind of people who would join a union in a place where joining a union can ruin your life.

I talk with one woman—bird-like, very nervous—and she just wants to explain to me how it is she came to be in a union. Because she never thought she would be in a union, it’s just that she couldn’t get her company to pay her overtime. And she complained and complained, this went on for weeks and for months—and Cathy says to her, kind of sharply, “Why didn’t you go to the Labor Board? That’s what they’re there for. You should have complained to the Labor Board.”

And the woman says, “I did. I went to the Labor Board, and I told them about my problem, and they took down my name and my address and my company, and they took my name and they put it on the blacklist. And they fired me.”

And then she shows me a copy of the blacklist—a friend of hers in accounting photocopied it and snuck it out to her. She gives it to me, I hand it to Cathy to translate. You know, in a fascist country run by thugs, you don’t have to be subtle. You can say exactly what you fucking mean. The sheet is very clear that it comes from the Labor Board, and it says, right across the top, “The following is a list of troublemakers. If any of them are found in your employ, dismiss them immediately.”

And then there’s column after column after column of names, page after page after page of them.

Cathy’s hand trembles as she translates it.

I talk to an older worker with leathery skin. His right hand is twisted up into a claw. It was crushed in a metal press at Foxconn.

He says he didn’t receive any medical attention and it healed this way, and then when he went back to work, he was too slow, and they fired him.

Today he works at a wood-working plant. He says he likes it better. He says the people are nicer and the hours are more reasonable. He works about seventy hours a week.

And I ask him what he did when he was at Foxconn, and he says he worked on the metal enclosures for the laptops and he worked on the iPad.

And when he says this, I reach into my satchel and I take out my iPad, and when he sees it, his eyes widen. Because in one of the ultimate ironies of globalism, at this point, there are no iPads in China. Even though every last one of them was made at this factory in Shenzhen, they’ve all been packaged up in perfectly minimalist Apple packaging and then shipped across the seas so that we can all enjoy them. He’s never actually seen one on. This thing that took his hand.

I turn it on, unlock the screen, pass it to him. He takes it. The icons flare into view. And he strokes the screen with his ruined hand, and the icons slide back and forth, and he says something to Cathy, and Cathy says, “He says it’s a kind of magic.”

<<silence>>

It’s a long day. And at the end of it, I’m packing up everything to go, and Cathy says something to me—out of nowhere—she says, “Do you think these people are mentally ill? Do you think it is possible that they are making all this up?”

And I look at her, as though for the first time, because, I mean, let’s be clear: she’s my Chinese worker. I mean, I pay her for her time, I don’t think about her very much at all. But now, I really look at her. She is exactly who all these workers I’ve been talking to for weeks, she is exactly who they all are dreaming that their children will one day be. She has a good life in the center of Shenzhen for her, for her family—what does this look like to her?

I say to her, “What do you think? Do you think they’re mentally ill?”

And she suddenly looks very tired. And she takes off her glasses. And she rubs the bridge of her nose. And she says,

“No. I do not think they are mentally ill. It’s just that…you hear stories, but you do not think it is going to be so much. You know?

It’s just so much. Do you know what I mean?”

And I reach across the table and I touch her hand.

It’s the first and last time we will ever touch, I and this woman whose real name I don’t even know. I say to her,

“I know exactly what you mean.”

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Tomorrow: “Part Nine: A Virus of the Mind”

The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs, Part Seven

This is Part Seven of “The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs” by Mike Daisey, the 2011 Trading 8s “Journalist of the Year”.

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7. “The Second Coming”
by Mike Daisey

At this point, people at Apple are excited about Scully. They feel like maybe it’s time for Apple to be a grown-up company.

What they don’t understand is that while Steve Jobs is kind of a megalomaniacal asshole and a little bit of a brutal tyrant, he’s also the glue that’s been holding the company together— and as soon as he leaves, it’s only then that people realize that Apple is filled with mad geniuses.

Thousands and thousands of mad geniuses! And as soon as Steve Jobs is out the door, they’re all going,

“MWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA! Finally! My plan will come to fruition! I will finally mate a monkey and a pony! MWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!”

And Scully? What’s Scully doing? Scully’s walking up and down the halls going,

<<in an excessively low-key Scully voice>>

“Hey…does anybody want to ship anything? Okay, well…let me know if you want to ship anything. I’ll be in my office, drinking a Pepsi.”

And all the rigor goes out of the place and things start getting real weird, real fast. And pet projects that should stay small start getting bigger and bigger and bigger because there’s no one there to knife the baby. Like the time that Apple tried to create its own version of the internet…yeah, that didn’t go very well.

Or, most famously, the Newton.

And the Newton is a tale of heartbreak for the ages because the Newton was a fantastic machine. The Newton was a personal electronic organizer—and when you tell people that they say, “Oh, like the Palm Pilot?”

Noooooo. Fuck the Palm Pilot—the Palm Pilot was made of Legos and bullshit.

The Newton was amazing. The Newton could understand your fucking handwriting; you’d just write whatever you wanted, it’d automatically put it in the address book, in the calendar…

It was the future! In your hand!

Except…it didn’t work.

And they tried, oh my GOD, they tried, and they delayed it and delayed it and they finally ship it, and all the Apple faithful run out and buy it and they’re like, “My precious!,” and they take it home, “Honey, honey, come see this! I’ve got the future, in my hand! Watch this: <<mimes writing onto the Newton>> Doctor’s appointment at 2pm tomorrow.”

And the Newton says…

HEMORRHOID FISHSTICK.

<<studying the Newton with great consternation and a palpable sense of loss>>

“That isn’t what I wrote…

…it’s embarrassing…

…I don’t know why the future isn’t working… Maybe it’s me.”

Because in this, Apple users are a little bit like battered wives.

They blame themselves: “I can change! I can change my handwriting so that the Newton likes it! I know that we can have a relationship, I have to make it work!”

<<now writing the same script, but grotesquely exaggerated >>

DOCTOR’S APPOINTMENT AT 2 PM TOMORROW!

And the Newton says…

LUSCIOUS ASSMUNCH.

This is the era of the PowerBook 5300—the flaming PowerBook. I don’t mean that your laptop gets warm or it gets hot—I mean actual fucking fire comes out of the keyboard! Your laptop bursts into flames! They recall them all, they replace the batteries…now, they do not burst into flames, but they only get seventeen minutes of battery life.

This is the era when on Apple’s early internet website, they have an actual, approved troubleshooting tech note telling users to take the affected machine, hold it six inches over the surface of the table…and drop it.

Doesn’t. Inspire. Confidence.

At this point, Apple is fucked. No tech company has ever come back from a deficit like this. WIRED magazine actually does an entire issue called “The Death of Apple” and it’s filled with obituaries written by prominent tech pundits mourning the fact that Apple is gone. And Apple is in the humiliating position of having to issue a press release in response saying,

“Ha-ha-ha, actually, it’s ok, everything is really ok, ha-ha-ha.”

It’s like a Viking funeral where the Viking is saying,

“Oh! Actually, I’m okay! I think I’m okay!”

And everyone else says, “No, you’re not,” and they push the barge out onto the lake and they set it on fire.

And at this point, the unlikeliest savior appears:

Apple asks Steve Jobs to come back.

And if you’re like me…

…don’t you wish we could’ve heard that phone call?

<<in the manner of Bob Newhart’s famous one-sided phone calls>>

“Hey, Steve! Long time no see!…Yeah, it’s been about twelve years <<listening>> since we threw you out the company, that’s right, that’s right. But you’ve been busy! Yes, we’ve been busy, too <<listening>> running the company into the ground, that’s right, that’s right.

Listen, Steve. The board has asked me to call you to ascertain if you’d be interested in the possibility of…

<<puts hand over receiver and gesticulates wildly to other board members, miming a silent argument with them, begging them to talk to this asshole in the crassest terms. After a standoff, returning to the phone>>

—the board has asked me to call you to ascertain if you would be interested in the possibility of—

<<as before, but even more animatedly, with weeping and agitas, until being dragged back to the phone to say through gritted teeth>>

—WILLYOUPLEASECOMEBACKANDSAVETHECOMPANY?”

<<hangs up>>

Because each side has exactly what the other side needs.

Apple…needs Jesus Fucking Christ.

But He is not available…

…so Steve Jobs will have to do.

They also need a working next-generation operating system, because while they were busy pissing away hundreds of millions of dollars trying to mate a manatee and a walrus, they forgot to make a working next-generation operating system.

Meanwhile, Steve Jobs in his years in exile has actually created his own computer company in his own image: NeXT Computers.

And NeXT Computers sort of embodies everything that is both fabulous and frustrating about Steve Jobs. It’s sort of like a narcissism supernova of Jobsian id.

On the fabulous side, the operating system is amazing: it’s the world’s first object-oriented operating system. It’s literally ten years ahead of its time. The thing about things that are ten years ahead of their time? Is that they are ten years ahead of their time.

So they’re not compatible with fuck-all that you are using today.

On the frustrating side, this is Steven P. Jobs, a man who does not know the meaning of the word “compromise.”

His idea of a reasonable computer to break into the crowded computer market of the late 80s is the NeXT Cube.

Which is a solid black cube of milled magnesium.

It is a TRIUMPH of industrial design.

It is compatible with NONE of your peripherals!

It can run NONE of your software!

And it costs FOURTEEN THOUSAND DOLLARS!

It doesn’t do very well. It really doesn’t do very well, and at this point, NeXT has no assets to speak of except for a kick-ass next-generation operating system. And so Apple acquires NeXT—but in reality, it feels a little bit more like tiny little NeXT somehow swallows up Apple.

Steve Jobs comes back and in one of his first orders of business, he makes some subtle changes to the board of directors so that this shit will never happen again. Then he installs his lieutenants to take control, and he interviews everyone at Apple, looking for diamonds in the rough—this is how he finds Jonathan Ive, a junior industrial designer. He promotes him up and a new order begins to take hold.

The Mac OS with its smiling Mac face and its friendly error messages…they take it out behind the barn and they shoot it in the back of the head, and they throw its body in a ditch.

And they take the NeXT operating system, which, as I told you, was ten years ahead of its time, well…it’s ten years later. So it’s right on schedule.

They transplant it into the heart of the Mac and it becomes Mac OS X—it becomes the system that runs all of Apple’s devices today.

And a new Apple begins to rise. An Apple that’s more design-driven, more focused, more ruthless, more elegant, more…secretive. The old Apple was practically an open shop, you could just ask people what was going on and they would tell you. Now, the gates are closed, the doors are shut, no one knows what the fuck is going on in there in Cupertino. It’s like Willy Wonka after Slugworth.

And then devices start coming out that the old Apple never would have thought of— lifestyle devices, like little boxes that play all your music, and they’re compatible with Macs and PCs, and they spread out like a halo around the world, changing people’s ideas about what Apple is as a company.

And then, when Jobs showed us the iPhone…those of us who follow technology could feel here was the metaphor, shifting again. Here was the new new thing. Gone is the cursor, gone is the windowing interface—it’s so simple, even a child could use it. But the changes go much deeper than that. Every device that runs that touch interface is locked down. You will never touch that operating system, that belongs to Apple and Apple alone. You will never install your own programs on those machines, instead you will download them from Apple’s servers, and Apple will choose what is available and take a healthy cut of each and every proceeding. Unless you jailbreak those devices, you will never truly own them.

And a walled garden begins to rise up around all the Apple users who frolic and play…and a new deal is struck between Apple and its users and the terms of the new deal are:

<<In the voice of Apple—Zeus meets Charlton Heston>>

WE ARE APPLE. Have we not always given you the very finest devices? Have we not given you the best user experience?

We did that because we have exquisite taste.

We have exquisite taste.

And you…do not.

We are going to protect you from your taste.

We are going to lock this shit down once and for all. And let’s be clear—you’re going love what’s coming next, but this is the end of the garage, this is the end of hacking your own shit, this is the end of Wozniak—this is the rise of the consumer.

And that will be your role. You will consume.

You will drink from Apple’s servers—it will be a new virtuous circle between each of you and the corporate entity that is Apple, you will be tied together, and with each app you download you will be bound even more tightly.

But you will not mind…because you will never leave. Why would you leave? They’re the very best devices in the world, are they not?

You will use them, and you will love them.

You will love them, and they will own you.

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Tomorrow: “Part Eight: The Secret Union”