| Apple, Ikea, Motorola…

The nefarious side of certain technologies

At the risk of offending every white person, I’d like to express my frustration with the ubiquity in the student milieu of products from three companies: Apple, Ikea, and Motorola. With a bit of research, I think that most people who are troubled by either the “military-industrial-academic complex” or globalization would come to realize that these are companies to be avoided.

Apple is no longer the benevolent underdog of the tech world that made superior products, but somehow couldn’t break into the average consumer market. Au contraire: in May, with a market capitalization of $227 billion USD, Apple took Microsoft’s crown as the queen of tech. This was accomplished in part by ditching its proprietary hardware, opting instead to equip its Macs with Intel guts. Not only is a great deal of Intel’s Pentium technology designed and manufactured in Israel, this hardware is also the exact same junk you find in PCs. Worse, Apple’s “brilliant” operating system (OS), adored by its consumers, is actually just a flavour of Unix, the proprietary counterpart of Linux. They are selling otherwise totally free, open-source, community-built and supported software at an exorbitant price. When you buy a Crapple computer, you are paying a massive premium for a con job: ultra-clever marketing and the slick aesthetics of a plastic casing house a computer running essentially free software on hardware priced at about three times that of an equivalent PC.

iPhones and iPods are even worse. The iPhone is the glitchiest piece of garbage you can piss away $700 for. It freezes regularly, doesn’t support standard stuff like Flash (wtf?), has abominable reception, and its battery can’t be changed unless you know how to solder. iPods are nothing more than offensively overpriced standalone versions of the media players that are usually integrated into the average smart phone. I can’t even begin to describe the ridiculousness of the iTouch’s mere existence in the marketplace. Finally, consider that Apple makes a great deal of these products at companies like China’s Foxconn. I’ll save you a search: Foxconn has a serious problem with employee suicide. Recent research from Chinese universities has indicated that Foxconn has really bad labour practices – working conditions are unsafe, it forces copious amounts of illegal overtime on its workers, and perpetrates several other forms of worker abuse, including violence.

Although it is committed to a number of sustainability initiatives, we shouldn’t forget that Ikea is a monstrous multinational corporation selling mostly crap that breaks (particularly if any part of a product moves). If you’ve ever wondered where all that beautiful stuff comes from and where it goes to, the answer is every corner of the globe. In 2009, Ikea was operating 301 stores around the world, and had a revenue of about $37 billion USD. Again, labourers and the environment suffer as thousands of tons of cargo needlessly circle the globe from pools of cheap material and labour, to markets that bear high consumer prices. Ikea is the face of a globalized economy, its products making their way into millions of homes, including those of “anti-capitalist” and “anti-globalization” activists.

My favourite, though, is Motorola. The development of the Android OS has allowed several companies to produce smart phones competing with Apple’s iPhone. In some cases that’s a good thing, but not when it comes to Motorola, whose Milestone smart phone gave the company record-breaking sales. The problem is, Motorola likely wouldn’t exist in the absence of military contracts. Tons of military and police telecommunication equipment is produced by Motorola; in fact, they invented the first portable telecomm device, the walkie-talkie, for the military.

When we go to buy something that is highly visible in our day-to-day lives, it pays to do some homework. Not only are we easily fooled by beautiful marketing and package design, we may be contributing substantially to the corporate “ha-ha factor.” I often picture the “chiefs” of our economy laughing about people drafting boycott, divestment, and sanctions posters on their Macs, while sipping organic, fair-trade coffee brewed in their FÖRSTÅ, and “tweeting” the evils of the military-industrial-academic complex from their Milestone. What a farce. In particular, when I see “activists” of various kinds casually turn to these sorts of products, I barf in my mouth a bit. Five minutes of research into probably the most expensive consumer goods they own should have been enough to lead them elsewhere. Clearly, however, aesthetics, marketing, and sheer laziness win the day.