DQ: “Un-Black Boxing” the Humanity of Devices

Reading the New York Times’ iEconomy series (Part 2, Part 3, Part 4) helped “un-black box” several things, including domestic and international labor involved in making and selling Apple products and their business practices.  While I had heard of Foxconn through the news, this was the first time I read about Apple’s corporate tax rate strategy, larger structural issues in the market that cause labor pressures, and the retail working conditions.

A Foxconn factory line. When we think about the labor and practices behind devices, this is probably what we think of, because of the focus of the news media. (Photo from the New York Times)

Labor in retail helps get devices into consumers’ hands (image from the New York Times)

I think there’s an interesting imbalance in general between what we consume related to new media, especially in the device market, and what we know about the processes and choices behind the devices, which the New York Times seems to be emphasizing in this series. I would ask how come we don’t know about these practices – the labor, the business strategies, the working conditions, etc.?  Does it need to take investigative journalism pieces like this one to expose it? Is it a lack of interest or care by consumers? Or do businesses intentionally suppress or make this information harder to find?  What is the role of the news media, or watchdog groups, if any, in un-black boxing the human stories within our technological devices? Is there a way to promote worker standards, greater public information about the manufacturing of devices, without harming competition in the marketplace? These may not necessarily be questions we need to grapple with – we can continue buying new technological devices blissfully unaware of the work that went into getting them into our hands – but they are questions we should be asking.

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