Your stuff and the people who made it

Image by Caitlin McGauley

I love This American Life, the weekly public radio show hosted by the formidable Ira Glass and produced by Chicago Public Radio.  Each week I download the podcast and listen to it as I putz around the flat, doing household chores or sipping tea and staring out the window.

This past week, I listed to the program, “Mr. Daisy and the Apple Factory”, which describes a journalist who visited one of the factories in China that make Apple products.  His report puts a human face behind the (often) little hands that string the wires and assemble the parts that become our iPads, our iPhones, our iPods and our MacBook Pros.  14 or even 16 hour days are common for factory workers, especially during the frenzy before a new release of the next highly anticipated product.

Sweat shop labor is a controversial topic, and wealthy Western nations are not in the best position to speak too moralistically about it — on the one hand, factory work, even at a very low pay scale can help raise families, communities and eventually, nations up from poverty.  On the other hand, the human cost — ghastly low pay, grueling hours, abuse by factor overseers, physically demanding but mind-numbingly boring work–might be too high too condone.

Nevertheless, the podcast reminded me of a poem by former US Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky, which I particularly love, called “The Shirt“.

The podcast and poem served as reminders remember that indeed, all of our “stuff” these days is still made by hand, though those hands are often little and located in a third-world country.  They are not “things” that appear out of thin air, but the products of someone’s work and labor, sweat, tears, laughter, hopes and dreams.

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