Just before I went in to the Public Theater to see “The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs,” I had to show my companion how to turn off her new Iphone.  When the show ended, we turned them on.  And felt bad.  There’s a moment where a Chinese worker sees an Ipad turned on for the first time.  “It’s like magic,” he breathes.   The worker is crippled through repetitive movements on a factory line.  The piece is a rant, often funny, often breathtaking, always disturbing.   And unforgettable.

Mike Daisey’s monologue on Steve Jobs’s life, and his own trip to China, where Apple products are made, was in the works long before Jobs died.  His death may have sharpened interest in the piece, but Daisey pulls no punches.  There’s respect for the dead, and  there’s concern for the living.   If you’re reading this, you’re using a computer or an electronic device, which means you’re already complicit in the horrifics of labor in Shenzhen province.  It isn’t only Apple, Daisey makes clear.  It just feels worse that it’s Apple also, because Apple inspires such love, such “nice guy computer” loyalty.  And Daisey was a True Believer.  His show runs at the public through Dec. 4.

Daisey is unique– a big guy with a plastic face who tells stories from behind a table.  He works from notes, so the script changes a little bit each night.  And he’s funny, particularly when he’s remembering something that startled him or made him mad, in a Jack Black kind of way.  He tells us up front that he was a “worshipper in the house of Mac,” who, to relax, sometimes took his Mac Pro apart, blew air into it to clean it, and put it together again.   “If you have never thought deeply about your choice of Operating System, you may be living an unexamined life.”  Steve Jobs was almost a divine figure who could create a need in people for items they never knew they wanted.  Mac, he tells us, was a religion.   And when Daisey began to think, that became a problem, as it is in any religion.

He tells us about Steve Jobs, the hippie turned techno libertarian, and how he manipulated his partner Steve Wozniak into rushing a project that he later discovered didn’t really need to be rushed.   Genius, yes, but also, very dangerous.  And it’s from there that Daisey begins telling us about Shen Jien, a city that “looks like Blade Runner threw up on itself.”  It’s where 52% of all electronics are made.  He goes there and hires an interpreter, pushing his way into the factory where he quickly meets underage workers.  “In the first two hours of my first day,” he says, he met a 13-year old.  “Do you really think Apple doesn’t know?

The piece is disturbing and enlightening.  Workers are on for 16 hour shifts.  A worker died after an 84-hour shift which, Daisey explains, is not unusual.  Joints disintegrate from repetition– something that could easily be avoided by shifting workers around, “but nobody cares.”

Sometimes the intercutting of Jobs’ career with Daisey’s experience feels odd, as when he suddenly shifts back to the failed Next tablet (which is, however, hilarious).  Still Next led to object-oriented programming and OSX, and Apple’s utter control over its

Mike Daisey (Kevin Berne)

machines.  “You will use them, and they will own you,” Daisey says.  Daisey also addresses counter-arguments– companies would lose a fractional amount if they used American workers; the human rights issues were not really addressed (wages were raised, but then the factories charged for rent, and so on).  Finally Daisey’s hero-worship of Jobs can’t quite leave him– he even reveals a wish that Jobs was toying around with the problem to find a solution.  But finally, he has to conclude that he wasn’t.  He’s left seeing blood welling up under his keys.  You will, too.

Jean-Michele Gregory directs with an eye for rhythm and build, so that the lack of physicality never feels like a lack.  Seth Reiser’s scenery and lighting design is high-tech and sensitive, like the play itself.

Daisey does include a handout about what you can do.  One suggestion?  “You can think different about upgrading.”  Another is to speak to Apple by emailing CEO Tim Cook at tcook@apple.com.


“The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs” runs at the Public Theater, 425 Lafayette Street.  Tickets are available at the Public’s website or by calling (212) 967-7555.

32 replies on “The Religion of Mac Called Into Question”

  1. Interesting. I’m in the middle of the Jobs biography, and it’s pretty appalling what a bully he was to almost everybody who worked for him or negotiated with him. But the devices: still magic.

  2. Funny, reading the bio I didn’t find him so much as a bully as someone who wanted those who worked for him to be as much as a perfectionist as he was. Also, if he were such a bully, why’d folks stay with him and do so much to stay with him?

    A bully is someone who does mean things just to do it, Jobs was hard as hell on folks because it was HIS company. Bill Gates is the same way. And I suspect most leaders of industry (and Presidents, ever hear about Clinton’s anger?) are the same way.

    In many fields, leaders are known to be very hard on folks. Demanding excellence and quick to call folks out who do not meet standards. We cannot reduce this to merely being a “bully.”

    This word drives me nuts because I see a generation of kids (and, sadly some adults) who believe that ANY criticism is the act of a bully. Teaching, I’m often surprised at how thin-skinned many students are- expecting trophies and cookies for their “effort.” Anyway…

    I would have killed to work with him.

  3. “If you’re reading this, you’re using a computer or an electronic device, which means you’re already complicit in the horrifics of labor in Shenzhen province.”

    And if they were made here they would cost $3,000. You bought the damn thing, too, so please don’t preach from the high end of the moral seesaw.

  4. Actually, Daisey addresses that, and that’s a common misconception. Until pretty recently, electronics were made in this country. The mac I had 20 years ago was not made at the cost of human life. I encourage you to look into the situation yourself, or better yet, see the play.

  5. What are the other life options for these workers in Shenzhen Province? What would they be doing without this work? I find myself wondering if it’s appropriate to judge the emerging industries in China to the working conditions in America. It’s possible that this work and long hours is welcomed by many of these people. The contrasts in China between their great cities and the countryside is enormous.

  6. prof, you make some valid points, but there is a world of difference between a boss who closes the door and dresses down an employee, in private, and a diva who pitches fits and berates people in front of others — knowing full well that that person cannot respond because they need the job.

    Why did people stay with him, you ask? Because they needed the job. They had families to feed and mortgages to pay, so they endured the humiliation and soldiered on.

    I’ve known bullies, and I’m sure you have too. I’ve also known some hard-driving types who were not bullies, but WERE tough. Most people know the difference.

  7. cro,

    While I won’t disagree with some who take it because they need jobs (pun intended), reading the bio and hearing stories over the years, staying because of the need for work is rarely, if ever a reason folks stayed.

    They were drawn to him because they believed that he, and they were changing the world. In fact early on, according to the book, the employees had an award for the employee that got dressed down the least (or was it the most?). It became almost fun- Jobs’ tantrums- t-shirts, bilboards shared with employees.

    Moreover, the image of Jobs yelling and screaming, but then crying about it is precious.

    Jobs was no bully. He was demanding. As I wrote, I think the term “bully” has been reduced to mean anyone who is disagreeable. Moreover, much of this has been codified in the NJ Anti-Bullying Law.

  8. You will get no argument from me re: the rush to define every disagreeable exchange as “bullying”. It is nonsense.

    But you err if you think that Jobs could not, and did not, ruin people’s career prospects or hiring chances when he went into his dark moods. I don’t know if he fit a classic definition of bully, for his victime weren’t powerless, though they did hold less power. But saying that he couldn’t have been a bully because his employees stayed is like saying a battered wife is really battered because she doesn’t leave.

    It is a much more complex dynamic than that, which is one of the reasons the whole bullying law is silly.

  9. To deliver the best product or service in a highly competitive environment, everyone needs to be able to withstand pressure and rise to the occasion. The alternative is mediocrity. If Apple had been run by the HR department, you would most likely be reading this on a competitor’s product right now. No one likes to be called out, but where does one draw the imaginary line between motivation and sadistic abuse? There is a difference between confronting an engineer with a PHD that whose performance is sub-par but stands to earn millions for his/her effort, and dressing down a low level employee. Sports may be anathema to some of the more kumbaya singing posters here, but there is a valid analogy between a productive business culture and a team. If you you miss a block, and or your pass gets intercepted you’re going to hear about it rather frankly from your coach and teammates. It comes with the territory. Sometimes, as they say, “if you want to make an omelette, you need to break a few eggs.” Soon our culture will be incapable of supporting a meritocracy, but at least everyone will feel good about themselves.

  10. Any negotiator that shuns “bullying” is a bad negotiator…in the real world, that is, unless one’s goal is to achieve sub-par terms. Not everyone gets a participation medal in business.

  11. Dead, you too confuse toughness with bullying. By all means, there are times when the fur has to fly. Sports is an excellent example. So is the military. So is business.

    But that doesn’t translate into bullying. And even the US military, long seen as the refuge for tough guys, has seen the light. While they can be and are tough when they need to be, they understand that better results and long-term success is built from concensus and cooperation, and people in all walks of life do a better job when they feel valued and important and neccessary — not when they’re terrified and intimidated.

    That’s just the way we’re made, dead, despite your wish to re-engineer the psyche.

  12. Cro, I completely agree with you. As you said earlier, it’s a much more complex dynamic. Long term success is the product of shared vision and cooperation. That’s not to say that there won’t be major conflicts and issues to be resolved along the path, and that resolution often comes with a share of acrimony. The environment needs to remain fundamentally constructive and positive. Behind every success there is an element of fear of failure, but instilling fear and abuse as expected elements of the daily regimen doesn’t pay dividends.

    The Japanese camp commander said it best in “Bridge Over The River Kwai,” “The beatings will continue until morale improves.”

  13. “If Apple had been run by the HR department, you would most likely be reading this on a competitor’s product right now.”

    Yes, but then HR would have to relocate to Shenzhen province. Which may be a good idea all on its own.

    As someone who has been in the computer engineering field for many, many years, I have worked with some extremely intelligent, tough, and strong people who so believed in the “rightness” of their ideas they unrelentedly pushed toward implementation they sometimes really got people p***ed off. I have also had the displeasure of working with engineers who couldn’t solve two plus two, but who threw their weight around in an unrelentless quest to deliver bad product. I never met or worked with Jobs, but from what I have heard from people who have, he could follow either of those paradigms. The real genius can challenge and motivate people to do their absolulte best work everytime without having to raise his or her voice. Fear, ridicule, and bullying do not motivate people who are genuinely sure of themselves. It drives them to the competition or into entrepreneurships.

  14. Well said, Conan. I’ve seen the Peter Principal at work quite a bit over the years, and there is nothing like an incompetent manager whose sole motivational tool is instilling fear. My business is, too often, more like the Court of the Medici where one’s greatest peril is unseen and defending success from a flurry of paternity claims is as important as achieving it. Very often there are several paths to a goal and each one serves to benefit a particular individual or group while sometimes disenfranchising others. Where enormous egos are the norm, and financial stakes are high, the appearance of conciliation is often a thin veneer.

  15. The whole topic of bullying vs motivating and overseas vs US manufacturing and working conditions is a little too much for a (very good) theater review. The real answers aren’t going to be found in a dramatic monologue (nor are a good depiction of the problems).

    I think the punchline is that you’re not going to find any personal computers made in the US (or North America). Apple is making shiny new things in China (and now Brazil) because of competitive pressure to which not even they are immune. In fact, they were one of the last to manufacture in the US and the price differential nearly killed them (they closed their Elk Grove plant in 2004).

    It’s easy to throw pies at them now, but they nearly went broke less than 10 years ago. Mr Daisey’s not wrong to bring attention to working conditions (or pollution or civil rights or …) in China, but he’s as guilty of exploiting Apple as much as Apple is of China.

  16. cro,

    Looking it over, I really hope you didn’t mean draw any comparison to yelling and screaming in a work setting with domestic abuse. Regardless of why one stays, the comparison is off.


    So according to you, “The real genius can challenge and motivate people to do their absolulte best work everytime without having to raise his or her voice,” so Jobs wasn’t a genius? C’mon.

    Moreover, “Fear, ridicule, and bullying do not motivate people who are genuinely sure of themselves. It drives them to the competition or into entrepreneurships.” The history of Apple proves this to be untrue.

    So while it may make one feel good thinking that “Fear, ridicule, and bullying do not motivate people”, it is not true. Genius and leadership come in many forms. Sometimes it screams, yells and berates (Truman, Clinton, Jobs, et. al.); at other times it sits quiet (Ghandi, King).

    Regardless, Jobs’ way left us with some of the most important personal devices ever created. I’d rather an iPhone than a camel.

  17. Sorry, Prof, I wasn’t saying Jobs wasn’t a genius. I was saying he acted like an ass**** a lot of the time. I worked with the team at Digital that invented the VAX and VMS operating systems. There was always a lot of argument, but that was to be expected during the creative process. You won some, you lost some, but you always tried to act civilly (except for one guy who kept punching marketing managers, but that is different story). Steve Jobs came to Maynard one day and told Ken Olsen to his face that Apple would own them someday. Jobs then lost his job and almost put his company under (with the help of that idiot from Pepsico). Olsen eventually lost his company because he had no tolerance to listen to users. And he was a genius, too. Jobs, Gates, and the other wunderkindes may have had the brilliance to instigate their technical breakthroughs, but it takes a lot of people to deliver good product. No one does it alone, so the better you get along with other folks, the more success you are likely to have.

  18. I respect Steve Jobs for his genius, but agree that genius does not excuse rudeness and berating of his people. Civility does not mean you can’t be tough. As for Bill Gates, I don’t know what his work style was but I respect him even more than Steve Jobs for a different reason – the fact that he took part of the fortune he made at Microsoft, founded the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and is actively working to eradicate diseases and help the disadvantaged. Steve Jobs made a lot of money and had great products, but obviously was not as concerned about the poor as Gates. Not saying Gates can’t afford to do it, but obviously not everyone who can afford it does it. Gates is.

  19. Wrong on both counts, prof.

    Screaming, yelling, and berating DO NOT result in long term success and is not the way to motivate people to build an organization. The literature on this is clear, and it isn’t the usual psychology suspects but rather those who study organizations who have compiled it

    And, your false choice aside, it was YOU who asked why, if Jobs was so abusive, people stayed. And I pointed out that that is the same faulty reasoning that suggests that domestic abuse victims can’t really have it all that bad because, after all, they stayed. It is a perfectly valid comparison, and it doesn’t compare the “crime” but rather the mindset that would offer staying as proof that the events never took place.

    You’re way off your game today, my friend. And out of your depth, I’m afraid.

  20. I know people who have worked at Apple. They also dealt with Jobs. They said he was tough, but wasn’t all that bad. But that was the old Apple. When he came back he was much mellower. He was a perfectionist and appreciated hard work and good design.

    If you read the bio, he even complained about the design of the oxygen mask he was given when he was very ill in the hospital.

    The other thing is, Apple didn’t set up these factories in China. Foxconn has been around since 1974. They also make computers for Dell and HP, and hardware for Microsoft, Nintendo, Motorola, Sony Ericsson, Barnes & Noble, Cisco, Intel, Nokia and others.

    Apple actually stepped in and forced Foxconn to improve the working and living conditions of their workers after some of them had committed suicide. Did Dell or Microsoft do that? Hell no.

    This guy is just an over fed Apple basher. He has biased the info to make Apple look bad. He would just as easily went after Dell or Microsoft. Does anyone think Steve Balmer is a nice guy?

    David (proud Apple user since 1990)

  21. @croiagusanam, did you work for Jobs, or you are just talking about what you have read? There are a few examples of him yelling at people, and that was a long time ago.

    People stayed with him and Apple because they believe in what he was doing. Not because they needed a job. Microsoft was more than happy to hire any former Apple employee, and in fact they have. They know where the talent is.

    Same was true of Pixar and NeXT.

  22. Here’s a great post I found on Gizmodo talking about the conditions at Foxconn:

    “As a pro capitalism libertarian I always get asked if I support companies like foxconn, to which I reply that my grandfather voluntarily worked under similar conditions in a shoe factory during the Great Depression. These people choose to work a foxconn because the think they will benefit from the exchange for their labor for claims for goods and services (money). These individuals should be able quit their jobs, if they can’t that is a problem with the government not maintaining a free market but we all know China’s record on freedom. My grandfather was 16 when he worked hours like this in a shoe factory in New Jersey during the Depression; he quit two years later but not before he had learned everything he could about making shoe rubber. His next job was working a tire factory where he made enough money to put himself through night school as a chemist. He went on to work his way up and be a head chemist who was still being paid for doing consulting jobs in India up until he was 78 when he fully retired.

    Stories like my grandfather’s happen in America because we have individual freedom and natural rights. If there is anyone you should be angry at it is Chinese government for not having a free society and instead creates one where suicide seems like a better out then trying to leave a job. ”


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