“To dare is to lose one's footing momentarily. To not dare is to lose oneself.”
Soren Kierkegaard

Sir

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There is a common courtesy greeting used here in Romania to greet women pronounced something like “serumuna”. It’s a politeness-enhanced version of the American “ma’am ” and it means I kiss your hand. Elderly men not only use it but will also take a woman’s hand and kiss it. It is deeply ingrained in Romanian social culture to this day so that even children are brought up to use it. Yet to much of the younger generation it carries no internal meaning … it’s just something you say. So much so that I’ve witnessed it used with contempt bordering on an outright attitude of “fuck you”. It has never been my intention to kiss a woman’s hand as a greeting so I never use this word (even when it’s socially called for).

Yesterday I got called “sir” with the same kind of vibe:

@iamronen grow up and think before you comment, or just please don’t bother, sir. blog.grantblakeman.com/2012/10/quotes…

— Grant Blakeman (@gblakeman) October 10, 2012

It was a response to a comment I left on Grant’s blog (see link above) on what he found to be an inspiring vision statement from Apple. In retrospect my response may have been poorly delivered given that I was responding to something that inspired him but it was not a knee-jerk response. Grant used the word “sir” but it really struck me, given its context, more as “asshole”. The word “sir” is assigned a superficial meaning of respect though that wasn’t the way Grant was using it. I would say that it was used in an opposite direction. Instead of offering respect, it was used to take respect away.

Ironically it it this very superficiality that I was responding to on Apple’s vision. I really had no issue with it except for the words “significant contribution to society”. It is a good vision, clearly written and aligned with Apple’s excellence in design and engineering.

However when it comes to society Apple’s contribution is indeed significant, but destructive:

  • Its business ethics and their effects on workers people in China (the suicides are just one obvious aspect, the deeper ones are a culture corruption amongst those who “benefit” from partnership with Apple) are worthy of contempt.
  • It’s systemic infringement of people’s (customers and participants in its ecosystems) freedoms is morally corrupt. It’s aspirations for centralized control is indicative of primitive social norms (and probably what is considered by its stakeholders as advanced business practices).
  • It’s vicious upgrade cycles are disastrous in terms of precious, natural resource consumption and the inevitable wastes that come out the other end of unchecked consumption.
  • There have also been stories of similar control-freakishness towards its own employees.
  • And I am confident that if there was more transparency in Apple’s doings this list would grow very long.

So when it comes to society I believe that Apple is not a contributor but a force of destruction. I am sure some people have done some great things with Apple products. I am sure there are people who benefitted from Apple products and from things other made with them. I am also sure the history of technology and civilization would have been just fine if Apple was not a part of it and I am for one am looking forward to a world without it.

Yes Apple makes fantastic products and Yes, I am proud to have never owned or used one. Almost everything that comes to the surface about their culture and their relationship to society feels alienating and destructive. Apple is a fantastic expression of a superficiality of values that has come to dominate western culture (hence it’s success?). Therefore it bothers me when I see someone creative whom I respect like Grant fall for their pitch. and I speak out (of my heart not my knee) against it.

Apple is a social contributor much like Grant’s “sir” is respectful. Cultivating that superficiality may be the deepest contribution social/cultural wound in Apple’s legacy.

UPDATE: October 14, 2012

I didn’t put in any links to Apple’s social atrocities in the post because I was too lazy to search for them. But then Raymond came to my rescue with this news link comparing Apple and Nike … which comes with that extra twist I didn’t bring up … Apple’s partners in social crime are it’s customers:

In recent weeks, we’ve heard news of riots and strikes at some Foxconn plants in China that are making Apple products. Earlier in the year, the New York Times ran a massive feature story detailing working conditions at Foxconn, which left readers with the impression that Foxconn’s plants, while not exactly “sweat shops,” reflect the vast and often troubling differences in workplace standards between China and the U.S.
….
According to a survey by Hunch.com, the typical Apple consumer is a little more affluent than average. They tend to be college educated (67%) and lean more to the left of center politically (58% characterize themselves as liberal). In other words, the kind of people that – if you’ll pardon the generalization – would seem to concern themselves with the working conditions in second and third-world countries.

And it seems we’ve made our peace that, because we’re unwilling to effect change with the most powerful tool available to all of us: our wallets. Between 1994 and 1998 – arguably the height of the Nike sweatshop scandal – the company’s sales went from $3.8 billion to $9.6 billion. And Apple? Potential disruptions to the iPhone 5 supply chain notwithstanding, the most valuable company in history grows larger by the day.

The level of hypocrisy displayed by a company that behaves this way AND claims a social role is met by the hypocrisy of those who applaud it.

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