Painting and Daisies

My room started changing colors today.

It has been blue and green for a decade.  Today it began its journey toward pinkness.

Before I could begin painting, though, I first had to remove everything that I didn’t want to be a casualty of an unwieldy paint roller.  The accompaniment to my work was supposed to be the recording of the Odyssey that I checked out from the library, but a new This American Life was downloading in my iTunes and an hour long presentation by Ira Glass seemed a lot more palatable than eleven hours of mandated Homer.

I hit play and started pulling books off my bookshelf with the energy unique to the beginning of an arduous task.  Ira explained that he had heard the following story in a theater and had been inspired to broadcast and fact check it, which is all that this week’s show really was.

And it was powerful.

Mike Daisey, the original teller of the story, opens up by confessing his addiction to technology.  I laughed along with his live audience as I stacked books in my sister’s room and dumped the clothes I’ve been meaning to bring to Goodwill on my other sister’s floor.

He mentions the curiosity sparked after seeing four pictures posted on a Mac “news” (rumor) site. Someone had found them on their brand new iphone and shared them with the internet.  They were clearly test photos, taken in the factory and accidentally left on the phone when it was packaged and sent from China to its eager new owner.  I smirked, thinking of test cameras in places like Best Buy and took the peacock feathers from my godmother and the Kenyan doll from my brother off the ledge by my window.

Eventually these photos inspired Mr. Daisey to take a trip to China where he spoke to people who worked in the factories.  He saw huge nets outside of the surprisingly large building and learned that they had been put in place because in a relatively small window of time twelve workers at the plant had killed themselves by jumping from the windows.  He mentions a chemical used for cleaning screens that dries faster than alcohol, but put tremors into the hands of the people who used it.  He met fourteen year olds who told him how easy it was to get and keep a job at the big technology factories, despite supposed age restrictions.  The bright humor that had laced the beginning of Daisey’s story became increasingly subdued and I furrowed my brow a little as I attacked my light switch and power outlets with a screwdriver.

Daisey described how an eight hour work day was a “joke” to the employees to whom he spoke.  They usually worked twelve hour days, sometimes sixteen, sometimes more.  He mentioned a man who died after working a thirty-four hour shift and said that such an event wasn’t irregular.  I thought about the 16 hour shifts I worked in Alaska.  I remembered swollen legs from too much standing, an alien cracking feeling in my back from leaning over conveyor belts that were painfully close to the ground and sore wrists from constantly flipping one identical fillet after another.  I shuddered, imagining 34 straight hours in a factory and started pushing my furniture into the center of my room where it would be safe from paint spatter.

Labor is cheap, he said.  The visions of robots creating iphones that he had once entertained were obliterated when he witnessed even the tiniest parts of cellphones and computers being put together by hand.  Labor is cheap, he said.  It turns out that our desire for our possessions to be handmade is less fanciful and more realistic than we ever imagined because it is cheaper to pay people to make these things by hand than it is to build machines to do the same jobs.  Deciding that I wanted more space in the middle of my room while I painted, I pushed my dresser into my sister’s room and thought about how when I get a permanent apartment or home of my own I will seek out a carpenter or learn to make my own furniture, rather than stapling together thin pieces of plywood stacked in flat cardboard boxes together and calling it a bed or a dresser.

I turn to my now empty bookshelf and unscrew it from the wall.  I pull it gently, not sure how heavy it will be.  It is stuck to the ten year old paint.  Daisey met a man with gnarled hands who used to make ipads.  His hands were destroyed from doing the same tiny task too many times with no variation. Daisey pulled his ipad out of his bag and showed it to the man who played with it for a little while and called it “some kind of magic”.  He had never seen one turned on before, even after working on thousands in a factory.  With one last ferocious tug I dislodge the bookshelf from the wall and drag it into the hallway.  My back hurts and my room is ready to be painted.

A few years ago I was talking to a family friend about development in third world countries.  I said something about how other countries are “behind” the Western world, that the problems they are currently encountering are ones that we encountered some hundred years ago.  I said it was unfair for the West to expect them to somehow fastforward through their development to meet us where we are.  Self-informed development is just as important to the stability of a person or nation as the end goal if for no other reason that growth is stunted if it is imposed by an exterior force.  The person I was talking to said that she didn’t think it was right to say that one country has progressed more or less than another, which would be a valid point were it not for the fact that one country was forced to suffer the imposition of another’s culture.  What was once essentially apples and oranges became apple and genetically mutated orange that better learn to be an apple if it knew what was good for it.

There was and is a process of adjustment where the first culture struggled to remain true to itself, but there is only so much pressure any institution, culture or individual can take before it inevitably crumbles and crumble it did.

Daisey suggests that Western countries and the corporations that use the labor from places like China have a responsibility to impose the same labor regulations that we fought for here, there.  I am inclined to agree with him.  Why only spread the diseased parts of capitalism without the salves?  The world we live in is a global one now, and much as I want to lift my hands defensively, recognizing that we’ve broken more than we’ve ever fixed, the reality is that we are neighbors now.  As neighbors, we have a responsibility to help rebuild what has been broken, especially, but not only, if we are responsible for the initial destruction.

Clearly I am contradicting myself.  There is the orange that was forced to become an apple that deserves and probably requires the journey toward applehood to be its own, but as neighbors in this ever-shrinking world, we also owe the orange any constructive assistance that we are capable of giving.  I think.

There is a lot more that can be drawn from Daisey’s story than a meditation on what happens to a group of people or a country has their values overridden by a more powerful country.  Not only that, but it’s captivating, well told and funny to boot.  I strongly suggest giving it a listen.  I linked it at the beginning, but I’ll link it again here, just in case you missed the first one.

My room is three quarters pink now.  Yay.


3 Responses to Painting and Daisies

  1. lyricsninja says:

    i actually read a rather large article on the exact subject youre talking about. its really astounding on some levels to see what trule goes on in the manufacturing of some of your favorite devices.

    did you happen to catch the show on food network called “the big waste”? if not, you should try to find it. it exposes how much we, as a country, waste food.

    • tertiaryhep says:

      I haven’t seen the Big Waste. I’ll see if I can find it somewhere on the internet, since that’s where I get all my television these days. If my job as a banquet server taught me anything, it was how much food people waste and how thoughtlessly. Our banquet hall usually seated somewhere between one and two hundred people and we would throw out at least one huge garbage can full of food every night. And that was just what we got from people’s plates. It didn’t count what was never sent out and still got trashed. a;lkjsdgsjlk

      • lyricsninja says:

        this goes into what we throw out before it even gets to restaurants. aka what stores, vineyards, etc throw out because they know consumers wont purchase them. its a problem on many levels…

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