January CommQuote

We now view computers as prostheses to our bodies, albeit prostheses as dazzling as amulets. We no longer go to a particular place in our homes or offices to “log on” or “dial in” to something called “the Internet” or a “chat room.” Apple helped erode the spatial nature of how we imagined “cyberspace.” We touch devices directly with our oily skin. We manipulate data and images as if there were no lens between them and us. We are embedded in a lattice of devices and digital radio signals. And those devices and signals are embedded in us…

While we praise the products and designs Jobs sold to us, we must remember that the designs themselves hide the real brilliance, and the hard work, that Californian engineers—and Chinese factory workers—put into them.

My 5-year-old daughter can practice her “sight words” on an iPhone app that sits in a folder with her name on it. Yet neither of us gets to glimpse the code that underlies that remarkable piece of software. We can’t begin to imagine the work and skill that went into designing it.

More troubling, I marvel at the thinness and processing power of the iPhone 4S that I ordered this morning. But I rarely interrogate the working conditions in the factories in which the parts for that phone are made. As it turns out, Apple has a troubling record of contracting with factories that have employed children and seen workers poisoned, and others that have seen a spike in worker suicides.

For the sake of those workers, engineers, and ourselves, we should resist any attempt to think of human-built technologies as magical. It’s imperative that we demystify complex information technologies so we remember that they are collections of circuits and machines built by fallible and talented humans. We must remind ourselves that fragile human bodies often get injured or disfigured by the processes that forge the glass and metal components.

 –Siva Vaidhyanathan, Apple, Demystified, The Chronicle Review (October 11, 2011)

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