Do you remember when Apple got in trouble for their factory conditions in China?
At a sprawling manufacturing compound dubbed Foxconn City, iPhone assemblers lived in what was essentially a labor camp. They worked 12 hour shifts, slept stacked in bunk rooms, and were riddled with anxiety from a management style emphasizing public humiliation as a hammer to stamp out insubordination.
Workers began to throw themselves from the rooftop to their death.
So Foxconn simply installed some suicide prevention netting around the buildings. And that was that. Sure, we were all upset by the headlines for a few weeks, but we also lined up to purchase the next generation iPhone when it arrived. The camera was extraordinary.
Meanwhile, in California, I was working as an engineer in Silicon Valley, absorbed in the task of designing the sorts of devices that my Chinese peers assembled. Sure, our office had a ping pong table and all the fair-trade espresso I could drink. Yet, somehow I could relate to the factory workers in China.
The never-ending days and existential hollowness of the task ripped away at my soul. I was an anxiety riddled cog in the machine of consumerism, and I couldn’t see a way out. A chilling despair consumed me.
One evening after work I went to the Golden Gate bridge. It was the best place I could imagine to contemplate suicide.
When I arrived, there was a crew of construction workers dangling from the bridge by cable. You’re not going to believe this. They were installing suicide nets.
I was never really going to jump. I couldn’t do that to my family. But I will say this: once you open the door to suicide in your mind, it’s a very hard door to close.