iPhones are made in a Chinese factory where conditions are so bleak workers throw themselves out the window in despair. In central Africa, the mining of coltan, tungsten, and other minerals crucial to the manufacture of cell phones has fueled a series of bloody civil wars. And did I mention that smartphone users kill themselves and others by driving while talking and texting, and even those who don't risk shortening their attention span to that of a mosquito?
Look: I love digital technology and I love to use it. And yes, I own a DVR and always carry my iPhone 3G S. But with the hype storm over the upcoming release of the iPhone 4 in full swing, it's a good time to put gadgets and their human costs into perspective.
The iPhone suicides
Who doesn't like cheap? Bargains make us feel good, and any time we pay more for something than the next guy did, we feel diminished. Electronics makers know that, of course, and you might even say there's a corollary to Moore's law: The technology you buy today will be half as expensive in two years.
The race for the bottom of the pricing ladder puts huge pressures on margins, so it's no wonder that nearly all of the cool devices we carry around are made overseas where labor is infinitely cheaper.
Which brings us to Foxconn, whose city-like factory complex in Shenzhen, China, houses 250,000 workers cranking out iPhones, iPads, and other gear for Apple, Dell, Hewlett-Packard, and others. Also known as Hon Hai, Foxconn is the world's largest contract manufacturer, and it generates more revenue in a year than Microsoft. Last year it recorded net income of $2.3 billion, while paying employees about $300 a month.