Tech Op-Ed: Remember Where Your Technology Comes From

Owen Bell, Games and Tech Reporter

America loves technology. Just a few weeks ago, the iPhone 5 sold a record breaking 5 million units within three days of being released. Now that is over, everyone is starting to wonder about Windows 8, due out later this month, as well as the possibility of the new iPad mini. Tech news outlets, and many mainstream ones, are bursting with anticipation. It seems like every article on the Internet these days is about one or the other. It’s all driven by America’s desire for tomorrow’s latest and greatest stuff. We want the new shiny thing and we wanted it yesterday.

While we are all lusting after the latest shiny piece of tech, though, we rarely stop to think about where these products came from. We don’t think about the huge system of material production and electronic construction dedicated to getting the latest smartphone into our hands. It is something that we need to think about more. For us to get our latest gadget it takes the work of millions of people, some of them half a world away, living lives very different from our own.

A little less than a month ago, at the same time that Apple was turning in record breaking iPhone sales, over 5000 Chinese police fought strikers at a plant in Taiyuan, China. Because of the unrest, the plant was temporarily closed and the 79,000 people that worked there were left jobless. Foxconn, the company in charge of the plant, is a Taiwanese multinational electronics company responsible for much of the manufacture for American companies like Apple, Dell, and Microsoft. Although Foxconn itself has released no official statement on about what was produced at the plant, according to The New York Times, workers claimed that parts for the iPhone 5 were some of what was manufactured there.
This is the latest in a series of controversies to hit the company due to its poor working conditions. In 2010, Foxconn was forced to install safety nets on its worker dormitories after several employees attempted suicide by jumping from the roofs.

It is very easy to take our latest phone or laptop out of its box and never think about how hardships like those at Foxconn are caused by the system that provided that device to us. Here in our modern, technology-driven world, it is easy to forget about the very different realities that people on the other side of the world experience day to day. Before we rush out to buy the next cool device, we need to think about just what it took to bring us whatever it is we are about to buy.

I am not proposing that everyone should stop buying anything that has been manufactured in China, Vietnam, or anywhere where workers are treated differently from those in America. The plants that many consumer electronics are produced at provide valuable income to millions of people that would otherwise have nothing. If we stop buying those products, the plants would close and millions would go hungry.

What we should do, though, is be aware of what it is we are buying. The latest smartphone in your pocket or tablet in your hands is there because of the labor of people without the opportunities that we are privileged to have in America. We need to value our product not just for what it is, but what it took to get it to us. We need to remember just what goes into providing the conveniences we enjoy in our modern lives.