Ever since I wrote about the Rainforest Action Network report linking children's books with rainforest destruction, I've been having interesting conversations with children's book writers and children's booksellers about what to make of it. The collective feeling has simply been, "Oh no."
Children's Book Author and Editor Amy Novesky commented on my Facebook page:
"Oh, this makes me sad, but not surprised. one of the questions I often ask writers of their stories/future books is: Is it worth cutting down trees? Everyone thinks *their* book is worth it of course. But is it ever? Only, perhaps, if printed in a truly sustainable way, which, it sounds like, is far from the norm.
In my environmental blog, I spent some time trying to figure out if e-readers, particularly the I-Pad, might be a more sustainable option. The answer isn't clear, but I was beginning to feel that I should at least allow for the possibility that electronic readers may eventually be a better choice, despite my own preference for the printed page.
Then, today, I read an astonishing article from Bloomberg News about a wave of suicides at a Chinese factory that makes I-Pads. Apparently, there have been sixteen suicide attempts this year at the factory in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen, twelve of them successful. Suicide among the factory's 300,000 workers is so rampant that the parent company, Foxconn Technology Group, has begun covering the outside stairwells with nets to keep people from jumping off. So why is this happening? Because life on the electronics production line is, in the words of one worker, "meaningless."
“Life is meaningless,” said Ah Wei, his fingernails stained black with the dust from the hundreds of mobile phones he has burnished over the course of a 12-hour overnight shift. “Everyday, I repeat the same thing I did yesterday. We get yelled at all the time. It’s very tough around here.”
Conversation on the production line is forbidden, bathroom breaks are kept to 10 minutes every two hours and constant noise from the factory washes past his ear plugs, damaging his hearing, Ah Wei said. The company has rejected three requests for a transfer and his monthly salary of 900 yuan ($132) is too meager to send money home to his family, said the 21-year-old, who asked that his real name not be used because he is afraid of his managers.
The factory complex is apparently tree-lined and boasts a swimming pool and a hospital. But, to everyone's astonishment, that's not enough to compensate for having been reduced to a cog in the vast machine that feeds the global appetite for electronic toys.
The workers, 86 percent of whom are under 25 years old, live in white dormitories with eight to ten people sleeping in a room. . . Inside the compound, at a factory devoted to computer motherboards, rows of young men and women stand at assembly lines, their feet shod in blue slippers and white caps on their heads. The smell of solvent hangs in the air. About 80 percent of the front-line production employees work standing up, some for 12 hours a day for six days a week, according to Liu Bin, a 24-year-old employee.
What's particularly creepy about the entire creepy story, is the confusion Foxconn Technology Group chairman Terry Gou claims to feel about why his workers are offing themselves.
“From a logical, scientific standpoint, I don’t have a grasp on that. No matter how you force me, I don’t know.”
So are I-Pads and e-readers a more sustainable alternative to books? Not if their production requires people to say, as one worker does, "I've become a machine."