The Agony & the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs

I recently had the pleasure of seeing The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs at the Public Theater in New York City.  It’s absolutely unmissable and extended through March 4th.  Click here for The New York Times review.  It’s a 2 hour show with no intermission.  One man (Mike Daisey) sits behind a table on a sparse set, lit from behind by what looks like ghostly fragments of a computer interface, a sort of neon prison, a trace of truth that followed him home from one of his many trips to Shenzhen, China (a place he says looks like “Blade Runner threw up on itself”).

Daisey tells his remarkable story about the cult of technology, his own Apple altar, his visits to the Foxconn factory in Shenzhen (50% of our electronics are manufactured in Shenzhen, including all Apple products).  He intersperses his personal experience with snippets and biographical information about Steve Jobs.  The play made me think about the moral “complexities” behind the making of the products we love and continually (and perhaps unnecessarily) upgrade.  And it also made me reconsider the devices that I feel are so utterly necessary to connect with the world and communicate.  If anything, I feel empowered to effect change because I have the gadgets to enable my voice to reach many, but at the same time, my gadgets — and the way they’re manufactured — are a part of the problem.

The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs is old fashioned storytelling at its best, a super-engrossing monologue about new age products that we consume.  My first instinct was to pull out my iPhone and immediately spread the mind-virus by telling people that the device I’m holding, the machine that allows me to access a global village, is manufactured under criminal conditions in a world where people break their hands  (creating devices they’ll never see or experience) to make our communicating easier and to feed our hunger for new products by increasing our eclectic electronic shopping options.  It’s certainly ironic.

It’s important to see this show and talk about it, not as geeks and tech-collectors, but as consumers and enablers who could actually change the world if we all told stories, listened, spread the “good viruses” (perpetuating the spread of good and positive ideas), and refused to remain silent.

Click here to read The New York Times report about the recent threatened mass suicides at the Foxconn factory.  Click here for Mike Daisey’s New York Times Op-Ed about Steve Jobs.  Visit this CNN video for more updated information about the Foxconn audit and check out this article in The Atlantic about the Foxconn working conditions.

If you’re not in the New York area, and you can’t see The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs, you can listen to a big part of Mike Daisey’s monologue on This American Life by clicking here.  His story went viral on the program in its first week and became the most downloaded segment ever to air on the show.  This was the same week that the workers at the Foxconn factory made the news when they threatened a mass suicide to protest their horrible work conditions.


When you leave the show, ushers hand out a piece of paper that gives you more information about the situation at Foxconn and encourages a visibly stirred audience to spread the word as a form of grassroots activism.  The paper says:

The monologue you have seen tonight has been performed over two hundred times in seventeen cities over the last eighteen months.  Over 70,000 people have sat in the seats and heard the words you heard this evening… Change is possible.  You can speak.  You can tell others this story, tell people how electronics are made, and you can remember… This is a monologue — a single voice telling the story of a single experience.  If I have opened a door for you, consider opening a door for others… spread the virus.

You can watch Daisey interviewed about the show here:

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