Fasting From Your Technolust

I’ll admit it – I’m a gadget geek. I read Engadget way more than is necessary and yes, I have an iPhone 4S and can tell you without even looking that it has an A5 processor, same as in the iPad 2, and a better camera than the iPhone 4 (8 MP v. 5 and HD video too!), both of which are better reasons to buy over the regular iPhone 4 than the gimmicky Siri voice assistant that Apple keeps running ads for. I read most of my books these days on the Kindle app. I have multiple styli for my iPad2. I have a DSLR. I fawn over slick and shiny. I have to slow down any time I pass a Best Buy, even those Best Buy vending machines at the airport. I always want to see what is new. I did 90% of my Christmas shopping online and I try out new apps regularly. But I also call myself a Christian and consider myself to be fairly up on matters of social justice.

So this article troubled me – 150 workers at Foxconn (the manufacturers of many Apple, HP and Kindle products) threatened to commit suicide due to unfair wages and intolerable working conditions. This is after a wave of suicides (18 attempted, 14 died) last year at Foxconn for similar complaints. I think the negotiations worked because the threat was real. And obviously the attention of the media is squarely on the company to ensure that conditions improve, but I wonder why the demand side of the equation isn’t considered — namely, me. I wonder why I feel so detached from this situation. I understand that I’m physically very detached, and that I exercised great obliviousness when purchasing my products. After all, I was just trusting  Apple had made these products well and ethically. Well, I don’t know that I was thinking ethically at the time. I just wanted the iPhone. Would it matter if my iPhone was made with ethical practices? Isn’t that the same question I’m asking of my coffee and chicken lately?

This is a strange thought process to have, but don’t you think it’s strange that we want capitalism to be ethical? Is that too much to ask? And then, ultimately, it seems that all I can do is ask…as the end user, how would I really know if Foxconn did treat their employees with fairness? I’m not going to go to their factories and check if they are truly fair. But this is the problem with global capitalism to begin with, we are so limited in our decision making process that ultimately we have very little influence on how something is created. Whether it’s human trafficking or child labor, the odds are that we contribute to some aspect of these things by consumption. The global economy, our banks, our retirement funds, and certainly our blind purchases support, even create the demand for these practices to be born. After all, if corners can be cut in a production process, there’s just too much incentive to do so when money is the name of the game.

But ignorance can’t be an excuse once you know there is something wrong. The question is what do you do with the knowledge once you know? What do you then?

So should I consider fasting from my technolust? Would you? What’s a Christian gadget geek to do?

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About David Park

Christian 2nd-generation Korean American; Atlanta Georgia; more details to come. View all posts by David Park

2 responses to “Fasting From Your Technolust

  • Jonathan Nolte

    David- there’s an intriguing article about the Foxconn factory suicides in the March 2011 issue of Wired, you can borrow it from me if you want. Not to steal your thunder, but I believe the article compared the suicide rate to that of American universities, and it makes life on the Iphone assembly line sound quite sunny. But still, there is something eerie about it.

    Such is life under a regime of technique, in the sense that Jacques Ellul uses the term. I don’t think that capitalism can resemble anything we would call “ethical.” It will always draw it’s production processes from whatever is most efficient, and there is little room for fair wages, kind treatment to animals, and thoughtful treatment of the Earth when it comes to profit-making. That said, no economic /political system based on the paradigm of technique is going to fair any better. it is characteristic of the state to commodity everything and everybody.

    I feel you on on your main point though. I often have to ask myself the question- what is the product here, the thing I am purchasing, or my consumer loyalty? When you think about it, we are caught up in the same process- our allegiance is whored out to corporations, the state, and our culture and we leave little for God. Of course, we don’t exactly get the short end of the stick when we can afford the luxuries of gadgets, cheap energy, safe neighborhoods, jobs with benefits, etc. The workers’ liberation is tied up with our own, but we were hardly conscripted into the trade-liberalized industrial regime. We voted for it heartily with our dollars.

    The other question that plagues me is- in opposing the technique paradigm is- what do we want for the third world? They seem to want what we have. When I was in Rwanda last summer, a Rwandan man was telling us about all the wonders of the modernization project. They are building new roads, buildings, internet cafes, schools, etc. He told us that they want to be just like America. Then we had the gall to tell him (adorned in sweatshop-made shoes, an iPad in every other person’s lap, having just flown on a plane on a journey that cost more than most Africans will probably make in a lifetime, etc) that they don’t want to be like America, that it’s some sort of curse, that we are addicted to it and we hate it and wish it away. yeah right.

    So I wonder, do we want to see a world where every factory worker in China can afford to feed any size family they want, where every African teenager has his own iPhone, where every person on the planet gets three weeks paid vacation so they can fly all around the planet to visit us? Sounds nice, but it’s impossible. It’s even less likely if we continue to push on others the same kind of culture that brought us oil spills, factory farms, 10-year wars over oil, “The Jersey Shore,” etc. If helping the third world achieve first-world luxuries that the human population of the planet clearly can’t afford, who are we kidding? If anything, the first world does not need to help anyone, we need to humble ourselves and our consumption so there’s something left of the Earth for everyone else and something left of us to devote to God.

    • David Park

      Jonathan,
      I haven’t read Jacques Ellul, but I’ve been told that I should many times. I appreciate your awareness of the sense of irony that we have when we go to the “third” world. It is intrinsically infused with a sense of paradox about what it means about helping or even giving up what we have to be with the poor. I’m not sure that the poor or the underdeveloped are consoled by our presence, and like you said, they’re not ready to hear that the grass on the other side is not necessarily greener.
      Yeah, this is where I feel like the “endgame” is quite discouraging. It speaks about more than wealth, power, development, and consumption. It also needs to be infused with responsibility and dialogue, but it’s very difficult to achieve those things without some sense of moderation. But what’s moderation in a global economic sense? I have zero idea. It makes the “daily bread” notion sound almost silly. Christians in the West and the rapidly growing East are going to have to think more about this as we make the global South and the utter most parts of the world our mission field. We are going to be better challenged when power, wealth and faith aren’t so easily confused.

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