There are two New York Times columnists that I’d love to slap. The first is obviously David Brooks, and the second is Thomas Friedman, mustached douche and crony of global capitalism. The other day, Friedman wrote a column that was far more than slap-worthy, and funnily enough joined Brooks in citing Davidson’s essay from the Atlantic. While both men make similar points about Davidson’s essay, only Friedman escalates into the “I wish I could stab him for writing this” territory. And that’s saying something, considering how much of an idiot Brooks can be.
Friedman’s essay, entitled “Average is Over,” covers familiar territory: globalization, competition, Chinese slaves, blah blah blah. It’s nothing new, really; Friedman found his dead horse and he continues to bludgeon it with inexplicable fervor. Essentially, Friedman argues, American workers of the future cannot afford to be “average,” as they could in the past. Completely ignoring the subjectivity of averages, Friedman points out that now the American worker competes with “above average cheap foreign labor, cheap robotics, cheap software, cheap automation and cheap genius,” and thus every worker bee must “find their extra—their unique value contribution that makes them stand out in whatever is their field of employment.” Aside from being condescending, this point is obvious, and moreover has always been true—competitive workers, regardless of their field, have always had to demonstrate an “extra” quality.
But that was only the beginning of the essay! Wait ‘til Friedman gets going! Positively slavering over the idea that waiters and waitresses might be among the future unemployed, Friedman goes on to describe technology that, unless you’re an asshole, sounds pretty Goddamn shitty. Basically, it’s an iPad that allows you to order food from your table and then ignore your dining companions. Most important, however, is the significant reduction in employee costs:
Each console goes for $100 per month. If a restaurant serves meals eight hours a day, seven days a week, it works out to 42 cents per hour per table — making the Presto cheaper than even the very cheapest waiter.
Hooray! Now I can displace a worker, order extra bacon without talking to a human being, and play Angry Birds while waiting for my food! Dinner conversation is usually boring anyway; I mean, how many different ways can a person describe their day?
By now, Friedman has already ensured a swift kick in the ass, delivered by me, should I ever meet him. But he’s not content to stop there, oh no! Friedman wishes to drive home the point that average is simply unacceptable. Do you know why? Because of the Chinese, that’s why!
What the iPad won’t do in an above average way a Chinese worker will. Consider this paragraph from Sunday’s terrific article in The Times by Charles Duhigg and Keith Bradsher about why Apple does so much of its manufacturing in China: “Apple had redesigned the iPhone’s screen at the last minute, forcing an assembly-line overhaul. New screens began arriving at the [Chinese] plant near midnight. A foreman immediately roused 8,000 workers inside the company’s dormitories, according to the executive. Each employee was given a biscuit and a cup of tea, guided to a workstation and within half an hour started a 12-hour shift fitting glass screens into beveled frames. Within 96 hours, the plant was producing over 10,000 iPhones a day. ‘The speed and flexibility is breathtaking,’ the executive said. ‘There’s no American plant that can match that.’ ”
Wow! Chinese workers sure are dedicated to their jobs! I bet they love cranking out iPad cases and breathing in aluminum dust and being set on fire occasionally. At least they get biscuits and tea! Friedman is basically marveling at the efficiency of slavery. In the interest of balance, here’s an excerpt from another excellent article that appeared in the Times on the topic of Apple’s manufacturing in China:
Employees work excessive overtime, in some cases seven days a week, and live in crowded dorms. Some say they stand so long that their legs swell until they can hardly walk. Under-age workers have helped build Apple’s products, and the company’s suppliers have improperly disposed of hazardous waste and falsified records, according to company reports and advocacy groups that, within China, are often considered reliable, independent monitors.
More troubling, the groups say, is some suppliers’ disregard for workers’ health. Two years ago, 137 workers at an Apple supplier in eastern China were injured after they were ordered to use a poisonous chemical to clean iPhone screens. Within seven months last year, two explosions at iPad factories, including in Chengdu, killed four people and injured 77. Before those blasts, Apple had been alerted to hazardous conditions inside the Chengdu plant, according to a Chinese group that published that warning.
Friedman’s probably right, though—it would be tough to get American workers to apply for manufacturing jobs with 12-hour shifts (sometimes doubled), no safety protections, and a salary that doesn’t exceed $22 per day.
Is there any way an iPad could replace Thomas Friedman? That’s an app I’d happily download.