The Human Cost of Early Adoption

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This past Monday, Apple hit a world record. Preorders of its iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus came to over four million in the first 24 hours. That is twice the number of preorders placed for the iPhone 5 in 2012. It is the largest launch day success of all time. Truly, a remarkable achievement for any company in financial terms!

But are financial terms the only terms worth measuring?

In May of 2011, the New York Times reported the explosion of an iPad factory in China due to lax safety measures – killing several workers and severely injuring others. Despite Apple’s assurances that such a thing would never happen again, a second factory exploded in December, a mere seven months later. In this second event, several more workers were severely injured.

According to an NPR investigation, that second site was the subject of an official safety inspection by Apple mere hours before the explosion. An inspection which clearly failed to identify some serious concerns.

Pegatron, the factory’s owner, blamed dust for this explosion. And the testimony seemed to bear this out – He Wenwen, one of the workers injured, states that the air in the Pegatron factory often resembled fog due to the heavy buildup of dust, that their venting technology routinely failed, and that the factory windows had actually been sealed shut.

Apple insists that these workers were compensated for their trouble. The workers indicated that this was true – though only after the media had pressured Apple repeatedly to ask for comment. Each worker reported receiving the equivalent of $800 American.

This is where I have to point out that the starting price of an iPhone 6 is $650.

And, according to the World Health Organization, the median daily cost of a hospital stay in a Chinese facility comes to $65.

Which means that if you’ve contracted to be one of those four million early adopters? Congratulations. You’ve helped cover ten days of treatment for a single injured worker, some of whom who were still receiving treatment a full ninety days after their injuries.

Why are the safety standards at these factories so lax?

One basic answer is the relationship between ourselves and our phones. Our desire to lay hands on these devices – as soon as they are released, and at a minimal cost to us – means that Apple, and other electronics manufacturers selling to the North American market, push their suppliers to turn around vast quantities of product with little advance notice and at the lowest of costs.

On top of which, the New York Times reports that Apple forces each supplier to trim their costs by 10% every year. All in the name of providing us with the newest, shiniest toys the moment they arrive.

I ask again: are financial terms truly the only terms worth measuring?

And I also ask, how can we change this? How can we, as individuals, effect positive global change? The most basic and sensible answer is this: We can “think different” about our upgrades. We can ask ourselves, do our current devices truly no longer function? Do they no longer serve the purpose for which they were intended – placing phone calls, keeping our calendars straight, taking photos? Do we, in fact, truly need this latest, greatest thing?

By opting out of the current voracious consumer cycle and opting for a more sensible pace of upgrades, we relieve some of the pressure put onto the suppliers. And by publicly sharing the reason behind these decisions, we put more pressure onto the companies who are squeezing those suppliers to change their practices.

Now – lest you think of this speech as nothing more than a self-righteous lecture– allow me a moment.

I am the owner of two iPhones. The white one is used for work, which allows me to set specific do not disturb or vacation hours. The black one is strictly for personal use, which allows me to store music and games without concern for company policies on data use. Because I find this convenient. My hands are far from lily-white.

But I purchased both phones before I knew the facts. And once I knew those facts, I knew I had to share them with others.

I will not be replacing one of these phones.

And even speaking as a worker in the technology field, I will never again be in the front lines as an early adopter. Because when we ignore the human cost of these devices, we ignore our own humanity. I know that now.

And so, I hope, do you.

The Cover Story

IdolwoodIt hasn’t escaped notice that Famished: The Commons has a different cover style and treatment from the first printing of Famished: The Farm.

While I’m not privy to all details, my understanding is that the excellent Shane Tyree was unavailable for this cover. While this would normally disappoint me – I’m quite a fan of Shane’s work – it did open another opportunity to work with Amber Clark of Stopped Motion Photography (also available on Twitter as @stoppedmotion and on Facebook.)

Amber and I worked closely together to create a wonderful and disturbing set of photos for my 2011 web serial, Idolwood. A sample of that work appears to the left, and you can see why I found it easy to work with Amber. She is an artist, a professional, and someone I am proud to call my friend.

Amber has not only created the cover for Famished: The Commons, she has kindly re-shot the cover for Famished: The Farm. So those of you who really, really want a matchy-matchy set of covers could always pick up a new copy of the first book. Not that I’m, y’know, recommending that or anything.

 

Release Date – Monday, August 11

Apocalypse Ink has announced the release date for my next novel!

On Monday, August 11, Famished: The Commons will be available in e-book format at DriveThruFiction.com, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble.

Famished: The Commons, by Ivan Ewert

Funeral Watch: The First Day

Really, this is two firsts. My first death in a large family, and my first organic death.

I’ve been in Smyrna, Georgia for less than twenty-four hours, watching as family and friends gather for the death of my father-in-law, Charles L. Allen, Sr.

It’s a noisy process, though that doesn’t surprise me. What does confuse me is the joyfulness of it all.

Not joy in the death, of course. Joy in regrouping, whether days or years have passed.

Friends have arrived from Sugar Grove, less than twenty minutes from the house, and family is here from Columbus, Ohio. For the first six hours the conversation is around other things. The grown children and their friends discuss television, music, stupid stunts they tried as wild boys in the woods of Georgia. The children of those children – well, they vary – the two sisters bicker or talk about their peers, the elder boy regales me with stories from games of Battlefront and Call of Duty, talks of his dream to become a premium YouTube sensation. The toddler races his toy truck from sun room to kitchen, impervious to any outside sorrows.

Mrs. Allen is receiving church ladies in the dining room. I don’t want to intrude, but mostly, there are kind words and gentle touches. Casseroles, Coca-cola, and chocolate cake. What I hear is talk of travels with the church group as far afield as South Dakota. I hear laughter and see smiles.

It’s comforting, though hard to wrap my head around. Somehow I’ve become more familiar with somber reflection than open joy, and my own talk of Batman and barbecue seems like it should alienate rather than bond. In a way, it’s a comfort when the friends file out and only family is left.

Even then, though, they’re siblings. They tease, tweak, and taunt one another.

“What room are you in,” asks Sheila, and Lois replies “Two-oh-seven and two-oh-nine.”

“Well, so much for sleeping,” Mitch sighs, “They’ll be pranking us all night.”

Mrs. Allen tells the story of the night they met, fifty-five years ago. It’s too funny a story to keep anyone down, though – with apologies – I’ll keep it to the family for the time being. Leanne and I set to work packing away five whole untouched pizzas, making room for pitchers of sweet tea by removing pitchers of plain water.

I warn that the pizza boxes in a recycling bin will attract raccoons and possum, and am assured they don’t come by as often as rats do. Finally, my chance to make a joke – “Well, that’s all right, then.”

Eventually the family, too, files out the door. My wife and I sit with her mother, and this is more familiar territory. My birth family is small, their circles close and tight. Here we can discuss what still needs doing.

Collect the truck from his hunting camp and sign the title to the camper over. Do we want to drive the truck back to Chicago? No, love it as she does, Leanne knows it wouldn’t make the journey. Cancel the appointments with the dentist, neurologist, general practitioner.

The details soothe me, if nobody else; and so do the eventual tears.

It’s not that I want those left behind to be task-oriented and sorrowful at such a time.

It’s just all I know.

Supervillains!

One of the things I love most about superhero gaming is the creation of the supporting cast. Specifically, the villains who would face off against our noble team. After all, part of what defines a hero is the villains he opposes.

This can be seen as early as Dick Tracy in the early 1930s. Dick’s enemies are almost always hideously deformed, indicating the strip’s stance on crime. Batman’s foes are largely insane, in a modern version of the frontier tale – the man who would ‘civilize’ a land cannot be part of that civilized society. And Iron Man almost always faces off against other technological geniuses.

With that in mind, I’d like to showcase the logic behind a few of my baddies. I always try to tie them either into the hero’s powers, the hero’s backgrounds, or what I know about the player.

Avalanche is one of our heroes. His powers are super-strength and earth control, his secret identity is a geology professor and football coach at the local University, and his player hates mind control (having run a low-willpower character in a D&D campaign before).

Sylph has powers of intangibility. She can phase through anything except a specific mineral, which will be revealed in play and allow Avalanche to use his earth control powers to trap her in that mineral. I like the idea of a random guard’s wedding ring scratching her during a robbery. She specializes initially in art heists, which lets me contrast the very down-home hero with swank and snobbish old money types. Future plotlines include trying to corner the market on the mineral she’s vulnerable to, and turning to international smuggling (by phasing into airplanes).

Mooncalf is a Hulk-type character, incredibly strong but with no foresight or self-control. He isn’t villainous, but can’t control his changes; and is – of course – a member of the University football team. While that’s not obvious in their first fight, Avalanche will have to decide what’s best for the student, for his team, and for society. Imprison him? Try to cure him? Monitor him closely? Any of these choices determines how Mooncalf develops in later sessions, from a tragic figure to a full-blown supervillain.

The Power Broker is a mastermind who develops a serum to bestow low-level powers onto normal humans. A biology professor at the University, he uses some of his students as unwitting test subjects, trying to perfect and increase the power of his serum. The intent is to introduce him as a sympathetic non-player character in faculty meetings, try to establish a friendship with Avalanche, then slowly unveil his involvement in these extra-curricular activities.

Finally, for basic all-out slugfests, Lord Grome is lifted straight out of Moocock’s Elric series, the king of all earth elementals. I really want to have a mirror of Avalanche who isn’t terribly complicated or difficult to understand, and I know the players will get a charge out of this blast from our collective pasts.

Other comic writers or gamers out there? How do you design your villains?

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