The Agony and Ecstasy of Mike Daisey
A one-man show about Apple's dark side.
On Tuesday, I knew the outline, I knew the best anecdotes, I even knew the best descriptions, and I was grateful to hear it for a second time. But then Daisey came to the end, and once again I knew nothing. All along he had refused to temper his implication of Jobs in how Apple’s products were made. Placing Jobs’ story side-by-side with his travels to Shenzhen was itself an indictment. And yet, because these sections were conceived while Jobs was still alive, and therefore still capable of decision—of staging another one of his dramatic press conferences, effecting another momentous shift in the zeitgeist, in how we view technology, commerce, the world—they continued to feel imbued with the sense of possibility and hope. Jobs, one couldn’t help magically believing, might redeem himself yet.
Then, in the last minutes of this new version of the show, Daisey at last addressed Jobs’ death directly, and the tone shifted abruptly. With a mournful calm that crescendoed slowly in intensity, Daisey told how, in the moments after he heard the news—shortly before he called me—he sat in his darkened apartment and reread the dozens of emails Jobs had sent those members of Daisey’s audience who’d heeded his plea to contact the great man. In both the earlier and this new incarnation of the show Daisey notes how unusual these emails are: Can you imagine Bill Gates directly answering his critics? Sam Walton? Jamie Dimon?
And yet Daisey no longer sounded so impressed by Jobs’ accessibility. Indeed, he sounded let down, angry, even bitter. Jobs knew, he said. Of course he knew. This was a man who was celebrated for keeping a vigilant watch over all the minutiae, all the piddling details. He made it his business to know. And that meant, unforgivably, that he had chosen not to act. “Mike doesn’t appreciate the complexity of the situation,” Jobs sometimes replied to his new correspondents. This supposed techno-libertarian renegade, this poster child for the melding of microchips and humanist values, had become just another billionaire sophist. He turned his back on his ideals.
And so Daisey, appropriately and inevitably, now ended his performance by turning his back on Jobs. That oracle has gone silent. The only people to whom he can now appeal are his audience members, and he did so on the verge of tears, in a pitch just shy of brutal. “Steve made his choice. I wonder what you will choose,” he said. “When you sit in front of the laptop, you will see the blood welling up between the keys, because they were made by hands—human hands, hands of children.” It was an impassioned and aggrieved addition, and the audience squirmed until the lights came on.