Mike Daisey’s The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs certainly provides a portrait of the fiendishly-driven co-founder of Apple, but it has much more on its mind — in particular the devastating price that workers in China pay to satisfy our demand for low-cost technology.
This is an update of Daisey’s original 2010 work, a revision prompted by the controversy the original engendered. When NPR’s Ira Glass ran excerpts on his “This American Life” program, his researchers informed him that some facts had been altered for dramatic effect, and the resulting PR firestorm prompted the creation of this 2.0 version of the piece.
Alex Lyras, who plays the Daisey role, made further changes to the production, trimming it by about 30 minutes and visually augmenting it with a PowerPoint (sorry – Keynote) presentation. Both seem to have been wise choices. The visuals bring the words to life and provide some much-needed humor. And no matter how fascinating the subject, a monologue lasting two hours can go from dynamite to diatribe as time goes on.
Agony simultaneously traces the history of Apple and takes us on a trip to the horrendous factory in China where the company’s products are manufactured. It’s fascinating and appalling stuff.
It’s amusing to see the pictures of the old technologies like the first tiny Macintoshes with their green CRTs. But then we are transported back to the Foxxcon plant in China and discover the working conditions the employees must endure — working in silence, living in tiny dormitories barely bigger than jail cells. The company even had to install netting around the outside of the building due to the high occurrence of employees leaping to their deaths.
The intention is to make us feel guilty about loving our cheap technology, and indeed damns not only the manufacturers but all of us who demand low-cost toys while simultaneously turning away when the factory conditions are exposed.
And Lyras saves one of the most powerful clips for near the end of the show — Jobs himself on a PBS show about a year before he died, soft-peddling the Foxxcon scandal and measuring the ratio of suicides at the factory against the population of the United States. It’s not a helpful statistic.