Hardware techies at Apple are regularly sent from California for intense two-week shifts to the city-sized Foxconn factory in Shenzhen, China where iPods are made and tested. Internally at Apple this is known as "being sent to Mordor."
This tidbit comes our way via megablogger Jason Kottke, who grabbed it from the Double-Tongued Dictionary, which attributes it to a weekly newsletter distributed by the "celebrity gossip" service Popbitch. I have reviewed the most recent issue of Popbitch, and all I can say is, this is not the kind of sourcing that makes How the World Works confident.
And yet, the juxtaposition of "The Lord of the Rings" and Foxconn is irresistible. J.R.R. Tolkien was known to distrust technology and we'll bet he was more than a little suspicious of capitalism -- he too might have deemed Chinese high-tech production lines to be little more than mechanisms of orc-and-goblin perpetrated dehumanization.
A little over a year ago a How the World Works reader provided his own eyewitness account of the factory in question. His tale is remarkable for a failure to mention either the Eye of Sauron or Mount Doom, but there is little doubt that the free men of the West would find the conditions there objectionable.
It was a stunning sight to walk into one floor of this factory complex, the size perhaps of one or two football fields, and see dozens of assembly lines, each staffed by hundreds of uniformed young women seated perhaps two feet apart. The floor literally smelled like people. Each worker had an assigned task, lasting no more than a few seconds as the assembly line moved. There was no talking or personal interaction between the workers on the job at all -- I assume that it was forbidden. There were two breaks, and an hour lunch, each day. Each worker was carefully monitored for mistakes, and too many mistakes within a given time frame were grounds for immediate termination. The jobs they were doing looked, as almost all assembly line jobs look to me, deadly boring.
So is this, as one blogger suggested, a postmodern version of William Blake's "dark, Satanic mills?" Perhaps. But isn't it also possible that we might be looking in the wrong direction if we seek the Dark Lord of iMordor in China?
Who sends his poor minions to China/Mordor? Who would have the blackness of soul to lower the price of an iPhone by $200 mere months after launch? Who seeks control over every blog, every bulletin board, every Web site that dares even mention Apple?
One iPhone to rule them all,
One iPhone to find them,
One iPhone to bring them all
and in the darkness bind them.
UPDATE: I originally attributed the phrase "dark Satanic mills" to John Milton, instead of William Blake. That may be the most embarrassing error in the almost-two-year-history of How the World Works.