After seeing Mike Daisey’s show last night, The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs, I’m much clearer on the controversy surrounding his evisceration of Apple (and his critique of us consumers who blithely purchase things without thinking about how they are produced). The show is powerful and funny. It is a brilliant night of agitprop theater. The audience groans along in their own self-indictment. It is story-telling at its best.
The show is half Steve Jobs biography, half monologue on the horrible working condition of Apple employees at Foxconn in Shenzhen, China. But he seems to have made up some of the story.
A few observations. First, Marketplace– the NPR mouthpiece for salivating support for corporate capitalism– broke the news of Daisey’s obfuscation the DAY the ipad 3 was released. I find that odd.
Second, whatever journalistic standards Daisey failed to reach (and he did, indeed, fall wildly short of anything resembling quality journalism), his central point remains unassailable: the process of design is PART of the design. So as we assess Steve Jobs, we need to look not merely at the ipad, but at the entire process of making the ipad. Jobs created beautiful devices. He created suffering. It’s all the same story. The product is the process.
Journalists, of course, are giddy to tear down Agony/Ecstasy. Look here to see Evan Osnos gloat at how much more he knows about China than Daisey.
But this is not what I take away from Agony/Ecstasy.
Questions about Apple and its production methods are what I take away. A full, nuanced, sophisticated set of questions about the legacy of Steve Jobs is what I take away. A more confused sense of what it means to purchase an Apple product is what I take away.
I don’t go to the theater for journalism, and Mike Daisey doesn’t ask me to see him as a journalist. He did his job as a story teller; journalists in China need to do a better job in theirs.