Friday, February 20, 2009

High-Tech Misery

Last week, I bought a new computer keyboard for my Mac Mini. The one I'd been using was seven years old with keys producing letters part-time only. As it happens, I have a stockpile of my favorite ergonomic keyboards, two rescued from the trash, the third (at which I type this) still working like new after 11 years. Unfortunately, my old favorites have PS/2 connectors, and the Mac requires a USB connector. My usual online computer stores had so many different keyboards at so many different prices I couldn't make a decision, so instead I made a trip to Wal-Mart, and bought one off the shelf. Problem solved.

The next day, via /. (Slashdot), I found an article from The National Labor Committee, entitled High Tech Misery in China: The Dehumanization of Young Workers Producing Our Computer Keyboards. I knew wages, hours, and conditions were bad in Chinese factories, but this report describes something worse than prison labor. Sadly, the young women ruining their health making keyboards are glad to be working, given the many factory closings in other industries.

Here's the "forward" to the article, contrasting my pleasure in a new, smooth-functioning keyboard with the misery of the young woman who assembled it.

"I think it's fair to say that personal computers have become the most empowering tools we've ever created. They're tools of communication, they're tools of creativity, and they can be shaped by their user....The Internet is becoming the town square for the global village of tomorrow."

--Bill Gates

"We feel like we are serving prison sentences."

--Meitai factory worker making Microsoft keyboards


Larry said...

I have a fondness for the old IBM "clicky" keyboards; they are heavy, and thus stay put, and they have the nicest feel. I've worn out two of them during the past few years, one new and one used but refurbished.

I'm using a cheap Wal Mart keyboard now, but it's about to fail me, I suspect. After reading your post I may look for another used IBM model on Ebay as a replacement.

Reya Mellicker said...

Thank you for reminding me that all our lovely doo-dads come with a price.

Many of the letters on my keyboard have worn off, but I'm going to use it till its dead.


Rebecca Clayton said...

It's very sad, isn't it. We have so little chance to know who makes the stuff we have these days, or what life is like for them.