Burroughs Adding Machine

Social justice, arts and politics, life in New York City

Lives of the iPhone Workers

I think it’s easy for us, as privileged Americans, to believe that our gadgets appear from God. iPhone broken? Well, I needed to upgrade to a G4 anyway. Plop down the credit card; like magic, the new technology appears.

Joel Johnson provides a more sobering view of where our technology comes from. In Shenzhen, China, more than 420,000 (nearly half a million!) workers manufacture the parts that power our iPhones, laptops, and a whole slew of gadgets. One of the more particularly sobering facts is the knowledge that 11 suicides took place at the factory earlier this year. Nets surrounding the dormitory buildings have curbed the suicides.

The facilities seem run-down but clean. Conditions for the workers in the factory aren’t visible–I guess we’ll have to wait for Johnson’s article in Wired later this month.


Filed under: china, consumerism, technology, work, , , , , , , ,

Look Ma! No Hands!

Google revealed yesterday that it has been testing autonomous cars on California highways. Thought that guy behind the wheel was reading a book? You may have been right: these Priuses are driven by new technology including “video cameras, radar sensors and a laser range finder to ‘see’ other traffic.”

According to The New York Times, these cars can “drive themselves, using artificial-intelligence software that can sense anything near the car and mimic the decisions made by a human driver.”

Filed under: technology, transportation, , , , ,

Arcade Fire Needs Your Home Address


For the music video to their new song “The Wilderness Downtown,” Arcade Fire chose to work with filmmaker Chris Milk and to integrate Google interactive maps. Billed as an “interactive film,” you enter your home address and witness the coolness. This really pushes the envelope in combining an interactive experience, creepy Google streetview technology (when did they capture those images of my house?), and a surprisingly effective array of browser windows in all shapes and sizes, containing streaming video. The whole process takes a couple minutes, and you’ve gotta download Google’s new Chrome Experiment, but it’s worth it.

If anything, Arcade Fire provides the excellent soundtrack. Reminds me of the way Radiohead embraced Web 2.0 to release In Rainbows. Or how Jonsi totally socked it to me with his one-of-a-kind, aesthetically mind-blowing concert and film experience for go. (If you still have a chance to see Jonsi live, you’d do well to get yerself a ticket before he’s gone.)

Why aren’t more of us taking advantage of the technology at our fingertips?

Filed under: media, music, technology, web 2.0, , , , , , ,

Jane Lynch Spoofs the iPhone 4

It’s hard not to love Jane Lynch.

Her perfect timing, hard-edged exterior, and outrageous, foul-mouthed utterances–all delivered with an impish smile. This spoof of the new iPhone is hilarious. Happy Tuesday.

Filed under: comedy, consumerism, technology, , , ,

The Abundance (and Conundrum) of Cell Phones in Africa

Sure, your phone’s useful in finding a mutual time and place to meet your friend for drinks. But what kind of a difference can a cell phone make in Niger?

Jenny C. Aker and Isaac M. Mbiti provide a pertinent anecdote in their article entitled “Africa Calling” in the most recent issue of The Boston Review. For one businessman in Niger, the introduction of a cellular network seven years ago was life-changing:

Before the tower was built, he had to travel several hours to the nearest markets via a communal taxi to buy millet or meet potential customers, and he never knew whether the person he wanted to see would be there. Now he uses his mobile phone to find the best price, communicate with buyers, and place orders.

Aker and Mbiti go beyond just providing statistics, though. As the authors note, the iconic image of the African phone user is a woman using the cell phone as a tool for improving trade in her local market. But, the authors, ask, does this image correlate to reality? In a nation like Niger–where 85% of the population lives on less than $2 per day–more than 60% have mobile phones. What are the implications for Western businesses that choose to invest in telecommunications rather than infrastructure, microfinance, or even direct aid?

I, too, have noticed the abundance (and everyday reliance) of cell phone networks, whether travelling in sub-Saharan or western Africa. It’s striking how extensive the reach of these companies has become: entire buildings are painted (free of cost for the business) in the vivid colors of a cell phone network as advertising; local markets sell SIM cards that retain user information, while eliminating the need for actually owning a phone (some individuals share a phone to save money).

Though the argument hints of paternalism (is it the West’s right to make such judgements on how–and how much–poor African nations should spend on these networks?), the question still feels somehow worth pondering. Access to information such as price comparison for millet, for example, has affected the economy as a whole; cell phones have aided in civic stability, such as “voter-education and registration campaigns and citizen-based monitoring.”

As Aker and Mbiti posit in this reasoned analysis of cell phone usage in Africa, “Can mobile phones transform the lives of the poor?” It’s a tough question to answer.

Filed under: africa, technology, , , , , , , ,



» "Pinays," AGNI, Spring 2016
» "Dandy," Post Road, Spring 2015
» "Wrestlers," Fifth Wednesday, Spring 2014
» "Babies," Joyland, August 2011
» "Nicolette and Maribel," BostonNow, May 2007
» "The Rice Bowl," Memorious, March 2005
» "The Rules of the Game," Screaming Monkeys: Critiques of Asian American Images (Coffee House Press, June 2003)
» "Deaf Mute," Growing Up Filipino (Philippine American Literary House, April 2003)
» "Good Men ," Genre, April 2003
» "The Foley Artist," Drunken Boat, April 2002
» "Squatters," Take Out: Queer Writing from Asian Pacific America (Asian Am. Writers' Workshop, 2001)
» "Deaf Mute," The North American Review, Jan 2001
» "The First Lady of Our Filipino Nation," The Boston Phoenix, 1999
» "Paper Route," Flyway Literary Review, 1996
» "Brainy Smurf and the Council Bluffs Pride Parade," Generation Q (Alyson, 1996)
March 2018
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About Me


About Me

Ricco Villanueva Siasoco is a Manhattan-based writer and non-profit manager. More