Thursday, February 22, 2018

What Apple says about who we are and where we are headed

By: Forrest Robinette ’16

I don’t think I have ever seen so many iPhones in one place. When I first walked on campus, I was convinced that everyone had one. Of course now I’ve seen the occasionally Blackberry and the archaic flip phone, but Trinity is ruled by the iPhone. I think it’s fair to say that Apple is a large part of the lives of many students at this school. One reason I say this is because the cult of Apple has such a hold on my life.

I spend the majority of my day using either my Mac, iPhone or iPad. Whenever I’m writing an essay, texting, reading PDFs, listening to music, or surfing the web, I am usually using an Apple product. I’m sure it’s the same way for many other students.

At dinner one of my friends cleverly remarked “Once you’ve bitten the Apple, there’s no going back.” She was commenting on the addictive and manipulative quality of Apple products. I realize that not everyone is completely engrossed with Apple, but I would argue that many people are and they are for good reason. Its products build on themselves. They draw you in. The moment you buy one thing, you are incentivized to buy another. It’s not long before it becomes an integral part of your life.

I always took my Apple purchases at face value. I wanted it so I bought it. But recently the students in my seminar had a discussion about some of Apple’s shameful business practices. We discussed Apple’s harm to the environment, poor working conditions, and dubious legal practices.

I am not writing this to argue the validity of these criticisms. For the record, I think many of these allegations are legitimate, but I want to focus on something slightly different. I want to point out that consumers often don’t think about their purchases. I don’t much of the time. We take it for what it is. I want that product so I’m going to buy it. But do we take into account how that iPhone was made, how it got to us, or the happiness of the people who made it for us? Some iPhone factories place workers in sweatshop conditions. I believe that purchasing a product made in a sweatshop makes you a part of an inhumane system.

People might say, “I didn’t force those people to work in those conditions. I just bought a phone.” But these people miss the point. By buying a phone you are entering and enabling the system that puts workers in those conditions. I definitely wasn’t thinking about this when I bought my new phone. This thought came after my class’s discussion. When I bought my phone, I was thinking that my life was going to be so enriched by this new, shiny gadget. Do most people think about workers’ conditions when they buy something? I don’t think so.

I’m focusing on Apple in this article because it is so powerful. We can see this with the release of the latest iPhone. The hype surrounding the release was astonishing. The entire country became involved in speculation and we collectively waited with bated breath as Apple teased us. They absolutely dominate the market. Most other smartphones just seek to mimic the trademark features of the iPhone. This company is such a part of our everyday lives. Here was something that dominated my lifestyle and I never thought twice about it. I never thought about how my iPhone was made. I never thought about the possibility of cruel working conditions.

It took a class discussion to get me to question it at all. When something like Apple is so engrained in our everyday lives, we don’t question it. These products enter our lives so subtly and insidiously that we never think to be skeptical of them. I argue that we should take a more discerning viewpoint when purchasing. What we buy says something about who we are. The Chik-Fil-A debacle this summer illustrates this. As you probably know, the president came out very publicly against gay rights. I really enjoyed Chik-Fil-A, but I boycotted the restaurant. I thought that eating there would contribute to anti-gay rights groups. I felt pretty high and mighty, like a dedicated activist. I was willing to sacrifice something I loved for my beliefs. Then I did some thinking. If a similar situation happened with Apple, if Apple came out publicly against gays, I’m not sure I could give up my iPhone. This made me wonder how far I will stray from my values to enjoy convenience. This is something we should be aware of. To what extent will we overlook immoral practices for the sake of luxury and comfort?

It is easy to ignore the consequences of our consumerism; therefore, every person should be aware of the implications of any given purchase. I haven’t given up my iPhone. That means I am willing to be a part of a system that has mistreated workers. My purchase also means many other things. Be aware of what you are supporting or undermining when you buy something. Then determine for yourself if it is in accordance with your values.

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