Apple Co-Founder Responds to ‘The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs’

Mike Daisey
The Bay Citizen

Ethical questions raised by the show "could be a threat to Apple's future," says Steve Wozniak

By Jeanne Carstensen

When I heard that Steve Wozniak, the co-founder of Apple Computer, had seen a performance of Mike Daisey’s monologue “The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs,” which just closed a successful run at Berkeley Repertory Theater, I was curious to know what he thought of the show.  Daisey’s piece confronts the difficult topic of labor conditions in Foxconn and other factories in China where many popular Apple devices are made and had created some controversy (see my article on this here).  Following is a transcript (slightly edited for clarity) of our e-mail interchange.--JC
THE BAY CITIZEN: I am eager to get your impression of Mike Daisey’s show at Berkeley Rep. As you know, it’s kicked up a lot of debate in the Mac community.  On Cult of Mac, editor Leander Kahney urged Mac “fanboys” to see the show.  But he also said he felt guilty using his iPhone later after hearing about the working conditions in the Foxconn factory. As co-founder of Apple, what did you think?

STEVE WOZNIAK: I will never be the same after seeing that show. I cried during it and I'm crying right now. I have a seed of concern and sorrow in my head that may never go away. So many things that were so important to me seem much less important now.

TBC: Mike wants consumers to think about where devices like the iPhone come from -- that we forget that the beautiful machines are actually handmade by workers under sometimes less than optimal conditions.  Do you think this is a valid point?

SW: When I heard it in articles, I kind of ignored it. I figured that really wrong bad treatment of humans gets dealt with and fixed, even though I know that it often just seems to get covered up. After watching Mike's performance, I wound up asking myself a lot of internal questions. Are we all guilty? Maybe there are so many of us that we discard that thought by dilution of responsibility (the more people there are not doing the right thing, the less guilty we are ourselves).

Mike also made eloquent points about our 'virtual' ownership of the products we love, that we don't own them like we used to and like we think we do.

TBC: How did the show make you feel personally?  What made you decide to go see the show?

SW: I didn't know what it was about. I'd seen a very small clip and I went because I admire great performers, and Mike does such an excellent job. What talent to sit there for 2 hours with no intermission and hold our awe. It's deserving of a movie.

I loved the style of telling the Apple love story interspersed with the Foxconn story. Mike had done the equivalent of personal diplomacy. His actions in China were akin to a person why buys something and experiments in every possible way to find the truths about what works or doesn't, is it good or bad. I believe in this much more, even in my own life, than just reading blogs and reviews.

The shocking things that Mike said which brought me to tears were so because they came as a first-person story. It wasn't just a presentation to an audience. Mike was living the pain of what he was describing as he told it. Sometimes you see a good presentation but occasionally the pure honesty of it comes about from a ray of genuineness. Even in music this is the case, when you can see the singer/songwriter living the song they wrote and are singing. Because of this genuineness, I felt Mike's feelings as my own.

I'm very troubled but spending almost every free moment trying to examine all the things I consider right and wrong and looking for what solutions might be possible someday. As Mike concluded, everything changes.

TBC: A shareholder at the Apple shareholders meeting on Wednesday asked Tim Cook if he’d seen "Agony and Ecstasy."  He hadn’t, and dismissed the show.  But as a founder who bothered to go see it -- do you think the experience was worth it?  Should Tim go see it?

SW: Tim should know about this very soon, so that he knows what's in more and more people's heads. The emotions and understanding and moral feelings that Mike brings out are very strong and could be a threat to Apple's future, even though they are only simmering now.