What happened a few weeks ago?
Thousands of people lined up in front of stores all across the world in order to be among the first to purchase a product that allegedly was the most innovative this company had ever designed. Some soon to be owners even slept in tents to keep their place in the front. People were ecstatic, willing to pay whatever was demanded if it meant they could purchase this one special item. What was it that had caused such excitement? A promising drug for the treatment of cancer? A delivery of food from the United Nations in a very poor country? A new tool that would get rid of back pain and headaches immediately? Tickets for an audience with the Pope (or other comparable religious figures)?
Unfortunately, the reason for the latest shopping frenzy was none of the above, as decadent citizens of Western countries have little to no understanding anymore for what really matters in life. What was released a few weeks ago was neither a promising drug nor anything else that would benefit humanity as a whole – it was simply a small technological device: Apples iPhone 5. If you need a lesson on how capitalism works – making people buy things they don’t really need – you better go and learn about Steve Jobs, Co-founder of Apple and one of the most praised figures in the field of technology. The distorted way gadgets such as iPhones are celebrated as indispensible units of our lives is concerning, but the way that the inventors of these apparatuses are worshiped in an idol like fashion makes me worry. Jesus wouldn’t be happy.
Jobs, born in 1955 in San Francisco, died of cancer in 2011 – but his legacy lives on. For many, the chairman and CEO of Apple was a genius for creating products that revolutionized the way in which we see and use electronic devices, the greatest innovator of our time. It doesn’t matter if you are looking for an iMac, an iPod, an iPad, an iPhone, or the like – Apples products are everywhere, establishing themselves as part our lifestyle and creating the illusion of individualism and self-determination. If communication were wealth, everyone could be rich. For an article on “Why Steve Jobs was so great”, see here.
Yes, Steve Jobs revolutionized electronic devices without doubt. Most importantly, he made them accessible to pretty much everyone (at least in the richer countries). However, there is more to the story – much more. Fans of Apple tend to speak about the advantages that come with their products. The disadvantages are rather ignored – and plenty downsides there are. After all, this kind of behavior is common in humans. If we wanted to educate ourselves about the food we eat we would know that eating meat makes us sick, is responsible for environmental harm, increases the lack of available food and agricultural land for the poor, and causes indescribable suffering. Yet, eating meat is so convenient – and it just tastes so good. So, you either stick to the status quo and praise people such as Steve Jobs (or eat meat) or you educate yourself on all the bad things that are correlated with their products (and become a vegetarian). Of course, who would want to do that? After all, causing harm out of convenience is still the most comfortable way to live.
It goes without saying that the downsides of the excessive use of electronic devices in current societies are not solely caused by Steve Jobs or Apple. However, in many ways Apples innovations have accelerated or even initiated certain problems. Apple today is so huge that it has great powers over consumers and even behaviors. It has the choice to use its responsibilities to make a change for the better – but does it do that? Besides all the advantages mentioned by Apple supporters, isn’t their basic motivation to produce addiction causing gadgets, monopolize customers, and increase their profit margin? Apples (and others) electronic devices have a huge impact on the daily life of many people. The question therefore is: is the well being of the consumers really the focus of Apples agenda? Or is the goal to bring forth mindless consuming zombies?
Electronic devices and accidents
Even though detailed statistics are hard to find or are not even available yet, it seems pretty obvious that the excessive use of electronic devices is a major (and growing) factor in today’s accidents. This statement includes bitter-sweet irony because thanks to the invention of mobile phones lives could, and can, be saved at a higher rate due to a quicker access to help. However, where electronic devices revolutionized the way in which we could act in the course of emergency, they are now the root of many accidents. Why is empirical data about the negative influence of electronic devices regarding accidents hard to find? Because when looking for the sources of accidents, police officers often do not write down cell phone use, looking for songs on an mp3-player, or texting (since the people involved might not want to admit that this was what caused the accident). Therefore, at the moment estimates are the only data available. Consider the statement from the National Safety Council:
“The updated assessment estimates that at least 23 percent of all traffic crashes – or at least 1.3 million crashes – involve cell phone use per year. An estimated 1.2 million crashes each year involve drivers using cell phones for conversations and at least 100,000 additional crashes can be related to drivers who are texting.” (Source)
What is more, not only car drivers are influenced by the distracting force of electronic devices, but bicyclists and pedestrians alike. Just go out on the street and see for yourself how oblivious some people are whose ears are occupied by headphones, whose eyes are focused on their touch screens, or whose attention is diminished by talking to someone on the phone. They might either walk into you, a car, an obstacle, or the like. One of the best visualizations of how oblivious people using an electronic device can be is this clip.
Sure, it is very funny and entertaining, but it proves a very important point: serious things can happen just because people are distracted by their electronic devices. I chose this video for several other reasons as well. Unfortunately, whenever people do stupid things that harm them they try to blame it on someone else. Considering legal action against the security officers is a joke to say the least. By going on television (for money I suppose) the affected women makes a complete fool out of herself. However, the United States in particular is known to be a country where suing someone else for your own wrong doings (if not to say stupidity) is very popular – and successful.
An example of distracting cell phone use leading to a car accident is shown here.
Electronic devices do cause accidents – there is no doubt about it. It is a shame for us as a society that we jeopardize the well being of others and ourselves in such a manner, and I personally have little faith that this trend can be reversed soon.
Internet and cell phone addictions and the corruption of decency and respect in human affairs
The rise of cell phone and/or internet addictions is a serious problem nowadays aggregated by Smartphones which combine several categories of daily interactions. If someone you are physically interacting with is using his or her phone, they are not only addicted to their electronic gadgets, unable to put it away for a moment, but they are incredibly rude. If you do not offer your attention to people you are talking to, you are being disrespectful. It is a parody of human affairs to see two people in public who are using their electronic devices instead of talking to each other. Every message has to be answered immediately and what makes it worse, most of these messages lack any significance. People feel the urge to communicate with the world – just so they can feel that someone gives a damn for the brief duration of one message. Further side effects are the decay of our languages (since the online language is truncated and doesn’t care about correct grammar), the neglect of face-to-face interactions, and possibly massive bills for apps, texting, internet use, or the desire to own and use the latest version of an electronic device. After all, maybe the one thing that Steve Jobs was best at was promoting Apple’s latest creation as the best and most desirable one that had ever been designed – only to repeat himself when the next version came out. The people follow Apple like sheep and willingly invest all the money asked of them. Apple is the epitome of capitalism, of a cult of consumption, of worshipping the new and lacking respect and appreciation for the old. Jobs was probably well aware of that.
The named problems are accentuated in adolescents who use electronic devices more and more and willingly become slaves of technology. If someone freaks out because the Smartphone or the internet can’t be used for a while, that is what is called an addiction. If the decay of human interactions weren’t so sad, it would be funny to listen to stories of people who “fasted” and went camping without their electronic devices. How they realized how much they missed their toys, but they also realized that they started to talk and interact with the other people around them more. I am afraid that people are forgetting what it means to live for the moment. Can you really enjoy a concert, a party, or a game if your attention is not even fully there at the moment, but rather distracted by taking pictures, calling, or texting? Moreover, with the dawn of cell phones came a whole new level of unreliability. In the past, people arranged a meeting and showed up unless they had a really good reason for why they couldn’t make it. Today, meetings are canceled for the slightest reasons – just send a text and it is done. Therefore, arranged meetings are ever less important in times where interests or desires can change any second. It has never been more convenient to ditch someone as it is today. Sending a text short term is not an excuse – it is still standing someone up. You are being rude – but of course you wouldn’t even realize it. After all, everyone does it, right?
But even if the whole world does it too, if you think that it is totally ok to be on your phone while talking to someone, you should question your manners. If people do it when they interact with me, I feel annoyed – and insulted.
As with any addiction, more people are affected than would admit it. If it applies to you or someone you know, check out the advice given on this site.
For a well written article on the rudeness of Smartphone addictions and how it messes with our brains, see here.
An article about the texting addiction of young people can be found here (By the way: the increase of texting in comparison to calling is the next step in making human conversation even less personal. Now you won’t even have to talk to someone anymore.).
An excellent article that describes how our webs of connections grow broader but shallower and how misery in accordance to loneliness is on the rise thanks to things such as facebook can be found under the following link. As paradox as it sounds, through our online contacts we are in touch with more people on the one hand, but isolate and alienate ourselves more than ever on the other hand. “We have never been more detached from one another, or lonelier. In a world consumed by ever more novel modes of socializing, we have less and less actual society. We live in an accelerating contradiction: the more connected we become, the lonelier we are.”
Problems we didn’t have to such an extent before the era of omnipresent electronic devices
It hurts to be made fun of. Unfortunately, mobbing seems to be a part of any society in varying degrees. It is probably rooted in the desire to make oneself feel better by making someone else feel worse. Insults and accusations might only be words, but human beings can only take so much and eventually continuous mobbing might cause serious issues. Sure, mobbing has always existed and is by far nothing that was caused by technological revolutions. As with many things, however, this kind of behavior is enhanced by electronic devices and universal connectedness. Why? Because it is much easier to insult someone by just typing a few words on his or her message board, e.g., than speaking to that person face to face. Although much different for the sender, this form of communication might still inflict the same damage regarding the receiver of those words. Online or cyber mobbing is an ever growing perversion that utilizes the circumstances of moving and acting anonymously through the realms of the world wide web. Of course, there are always two sides to a story. Everyone who is a victim of cyber mobbing has engaged in this kind of communication by chance (in contrast to real mobbing). After all, it is an individual choice how much a person wants to give away of themself on an online platform such as facebook or if that person wants to be part of this community at all. Many people forget that their interactive quest for recognition and attention comes with the serious threat of making themselves vulnerable in regards to others who might seek to exploit the published information. Once sent through the internet, pictures, sounds, and words cannot be taken back for good. An unflattering picture might come back at someone during a job interview, a comment about another person written in anger might end up as evidence in court, or a person will get picked on for people they used to hang out with in the past or for hobbies or weaknesses that were shared with others online. People carelessly share more and more of themselves with the online community – without much thought about the consequences their behavior might have in the future. One example of such consequences might be parties that were announced on facebook – and which got way out of hand.
This might not be the best script for the narrator I have ever heard, but it does hit the point for cyber mobbing.
Another threatening aspect related to the ever growing influence of the internet on daily life is online predation where grownups try to engage in sexual behavior with minors that they have met online. With this tool in hand, unknowing children and adolescents might be lured into traps by pedophiles. The same is probably true for certain cases of rape between adults, when meetings have been arranged online under false pretenses. After all, in a world full of people with low self-esteem, it is not that hard to figure out how to make someone like, and therefore, trust you.
Regarding minors and young people, this site offers a few interesting statistics about internet crime and abuse.
Moving on with the topic of how the constant use of electronic devices makes us feel worse in many cases, think about the root of envy and jealousy: knowing about someone who possesses something you don’t, who has done something you haven’t, or who is someone you are not. It is one thing to envy the big car your neighbor has, but it reaches a totally different dimension when things you might like to have from people all around the world are shoved in your face through the screen. Things such as facebook profiles create an illusion of so many people being great or worth knowing when they are really not. It strengthens the tendency of people with low self-esteem to look at the cyber-realities of others, adoring what they are or what they have done while devaluing everything about themselves. People do not live a fulfilled life just because they look happy on their facebook page, but others might assume that they do not knowing what lies behind the facade. As the consequence, the more they look at seemingly happy or great profiles, the worse they might feel themselves. The reality behind a happy wedding picture might be an abusive husband – but the happy wedding is more likely to be the topic on facebook, adding to the illusion of happiness. However, this illusion might be enough to make some other woman who longs to marry feel worse. Of course, if one did not only judge the cover of a virtual identity, they might discover that the portrayed life is not as great as it seems to be. But who would want to do that? After all, it is superficiality that is promoted the most by our increase of online relationships.
There are certain other characteristics that facebook accentuates: narcissism (wanting to get positive comments about things related to oneself), self-promotion (sharing insignificant information with the world to get some attention), and superficial behavior (one doesn’t even have to bother about articulating thoughts anymore since a simple click on like or dislike is enough today). Of course, Apple didn’t invent facebook, but thanks to its handy and accessible electronic devices the mentioned problems can now affect people everywhere at every single second.
Sure, many more topics could be mentioned regarding how our behavior has changed due to the rise of omnipresent electronic devices, but this entry is already very long as it is. However, I want to mention one last point that I find upsetting. The trend of embracing nature less has been ongoing for decades and has worsened with the dawn of personal computers. Where people spent their leisure time out in the open in the past, much time is wasted in front of screens and monitors today. The (temporary) climax of that development is the lack of appreciation when one is right in it. Many athletes perform sports outside, but instead of listening to the sounds of singing birds or wind rushing through the leaves, they have isolated themselves from outside distractions by listening to music through headphones (most commonly connected to an iPod). If people cannot even enjoy nature as what it is when outside I am afraid that this sense of appreciation is invariably lost.
How our consumption harms others
Of course, someone who disagrees with the points mentioned above could argue that it is none of my business how they want to express themselves. Well, as true as that might be, it becomes my business when I consider the horrific effects that such behavior of mindless consumption causes regarding other people and the environment. The number of cell phones in the United States (and other countries) already exceeds the number of inhabitants. The lifecycle of electronics in US households is shortening and typical homes have 24 gadgets on average.
Does anyone care under which circumstances these electronic devices are produced, where the necessary resources come from, and how they are dealt with after their disposal?
Let’s start right at the beginning. At the heart of any electronic device are certain metals that are necessary for them to function. One of those metals is tantalum which is extracted from the metallic ore coltan. Besides the hazardous effects of any form of mining to the surrounding environment, coltan has made the news for its negative influence on civil wars, especially in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Rebel groups finance their supplies by making locals work under poor conditions for little money (or no money at all) and selling the valuable ore for a much higher price to traders who in turn get their share when selling the mineral to companies abroad. Because of these correlations, some observers have termed coltan one of the “blood minerals” just like “blood diamonds” that are known to serve a similar purpose. The profit margin is so large that opposing groups fight fiercely over mines at the expense of the locals. The more ore the rebels can sell, the more money (and therefore power) they will have for their destructive campaigns. Sure, it is not just a matter of changing a few laws and import regulations in order to inhibit this devastating kind of coltan trade. Instead, the whole complex predicament of decades of civil wars in the Congo would have to be tackled. The truth of the matter is, however, that most consumers and producers do not care about the origins of their products enough to stand up for fair trade. After all, fair trade would certainly increase prices and who would want that? It is much more convenient to ignore the whole issue. Misery I do not know about is misery I do not have to worry about.
But the despicable nature of our lack of sympathy for those who enable our wealth by being exploited themselves doesn’t end there. Foxconn, an Asian manufacturing giant and supplier of Apple and others, has been on the news several times for human rights violations in its factories. Working conditions are apparently so bad that suicides amongst employees do not seem to be rare events. Foxconn did not only apply policies that seem unfair to observers from Western societies, but that even were in disagreement with Chinese laws. China does not have a reputation of applying all basic human rights to its citizens. If a company’s practices are questioned in such an environment, one should really be concerned. Public pressure does enable change for the better even in places far away, as the following article states. The sad thing is that too few people care.
Another article just underlines the blatant hypocrisy of globalized companies brought forth by their public relations experts. Timothy Cook, Apple’s chief executive since Jobs resignation preceding his death in 2011, has promised to take a number of steps to address concerns about how Apple products are made. This announcement might seem nice and admirable, but it is so twisted for at least two reasons. First, since circumstances in factories are so bad, how could Apple for so long make use of such a system that is designed to maximize profit margins at the expense of the exploited workers? Wouldn’t compensation be appropriate? Wouldn’t it also be appropriate to condemn Jobs for such inhuman practices? He was a perfectionist, so you bet he knew what was going on in his company. Why do people forget so easily? Are we seriously going to congratulate a company that has promised to eliminate grievances which it implemented in the first place? Second, just think for one moment about how businesses work. In an ever-lasting struggle, they will try to out-compete others. If they do and reach the top first they will do whatever they can in order to keep smaller business down. Apple has risen to the top and now possesses immense powers. They can afford to call for changes in working conditions that benefit their image, yet all the smaller companies which are not quite as successful yet will suffer more from such policies. What looks like a selfless deed in order to better the position of employees is in fact a clever maneuver to knock down the ladder for others which was used to climb up to the top oneself. After all, if smaller companies continued their policies, their image would now suffer. We shouldn’t be naïve – big companies will only implement changes if it benefits them and their profits.
If that last statement needs any more proof, check out the next link. Apple’s profit margin is immense. Where does the money go? The company would have a lot of capacities to make changes for the better in accordance to fair trade and fair labor – but it chooses not to make use of them.
There is a lot that could be said about Apple’s official code of conduct, but I will just point the second sentence of the caption out: “We’ve taken action toward ending excessive recruitment fees, preventing the hiring of underage workers, and prohibiting discriminatory policies at our suppliers.” Are such efforts good? Certainly. But this sentence also implies that Apple has accepted – if not encouraged – such policies in the past. Where is our moral outcry about so much injustice? I guess we can’t hear it since the headphones of our iPods keep us occupied…
So, despite so much injustice, most people take it for granted that they can to go to a store and just buy an electronic device. What if it breaks? No problem – we can get new ones. They are not very expensive after all. They sure would be more expansive if they were produced in a fair manner, but how is that our business? We have worked hard for our money and deserve to spend it on whatever we want! As with many issues such as killing or torturing animals for food, people should really hope that the tides will never turn, transforming victims into perpetrators. If the Congo rose to be the most powerful country in the future, would we still take it for granted that the weak are exploited by the strong? Ignorance is bliss, but as with crimes, not knowing or caring does not equal not being responsible. Speaking of which: what do people cause when disposing their old, out of fashion electronic devices?
We have had our fun with it at the expense of the poor in other countries. Now it would be only just to give something back – and something back we give indeed. Some of our electronic devices end up in developing countries for “recycling”. Those that are not returned but simply tossed in the trash end up in landfills, where their heavy metals might poison the soil and the water. Yes, E-wastes are toxic. In order to protect our people, we ship most of it abroad. Sounds like another fair deal doesn’t it? Again, it is up to the poorest of the poor to work under horrible conditions for our luxury. Instead of being dismantled safely, most old electronics are simply burned to release the metals that can be recycled. It is hard to tell what harms people who perform this kind of work more: the toxic fumes or the devastating effects of heavy metal or dioxin poisoning. For sources, see here, here, here, or here.
Now, one could say that companies such as Apple are not aware of the negative consequences mentioned above or that they simply can do nothing about it. Both would be a lie. The ban of an app called Phone Story is a pretty good example. It is a game that takes the user through the life cycle of one of Apples electronic devices – with all its negative aspects. It probably rubbed Apple the wrong way because it presents so much truth to the customers which Apple is usually eager to keep in the dark. But don’t let me talk about it since an excellent article has already been written about it.
The bottom line is this: Apple (and many other powerful companies) would have the power to influence all of those negative aspects mentioned above, but it doesn’t for the sake of profit maximization. It keeps its customers in the dark and manages to turn them into mindless consumers. Jobs was certainly well aware of all of that. After all, he was the mastermind behind everything. He was directly responsible (even more than the consumers) for the suffering of Millions of people. Quite a man to worship…
Questionable Apple policies
In order to keep its fans the mindless consumers that they are, Apple has worked hard to make its products incompatible with others. Could one use an iPod without iTunes? Can one change a broken SIM- or SD-card in an iPhone? Is it easy to upgrade an iMac or to exchange broken parts in it? Apple is successfully working on growing its monopoly, increasing its consumer’s dependency. No one seems to care much. All Apple systems restrict user freedom and can be controlled by the company. Usually people are concerned about a misuse of their private data for much more insignificant reasons. Apples brain washing just seems to work. What is Steve Jobs legacy? He has created a cult of gadget-worshipping consumers.
Finally, was Jobs a person worth worshipping?
I will keep this final part short and simple because a person speaks loudest through his actions – and I have talked about those enough already. One could say that Jobs was a ruthless opportunist who did what he must in order to make it to the top. One could say that in relation to his personal wealth, he wasn’t much of a philanthropist. One could say that he wanted to achieve immortality by brain washing Millions of people so thoroughly that they would worship him way past his death, while his company could still control them. The truth is, however, one should be careful with evaluations regarding a person one has never even met themself. I don’t know what kind of person Steve Jobs was, but what I do know is that I do not like what he has caused with his company. He added to the corruption of the human mind in a way that might be irreversible. It is truly sad that so many unknowing people worship a man (and a company) that served as the prime example of how our convenience destroys the world. To close the circle, after starting with a link on why Steve Jobs was so great, I will end with one talking about why he wasn’t all that great.