It seems sort of inconceivable that an iPad was put together by a person — a breathing, sweating, flawed human being. The iPad is nearly complete of purity of form, barely more than screen, almost like it was willed into existence. There are no screws, no obvious breaks or points of assembly. Pulling it apart is actually difficult, requiring a heat gun to break the invisible adhesive bonds holding it together.
As Marketplace’s Shanghai Bureau Chief Rob Schmitz shows in this video from the Foxconn factory floor, that’s actually more and more true in a manner of speaking, with robots increasingly used in the iPad’s production — a glimpse at Foxconn’s future ethical-dilemma-free labor force, since it’ll be 20 years before robots are smart enough to know they’re overworked.
But for now it’s people in clean white uniforms doing most of the labor: assembling the motherboard, putting parts into the iPad’s chassis, installing the touchscreen. The works looks boring and mind-numbing and weirdly sanitary, almost the opposite of the Temple of Doom-style sweatshop you imagine when you hear about Chinese labor camps. But from what’s come out of Foxconn workers, it’s sort of like a Temple of Doom of the mind. When I get bored I instinctively reach for an iPad. I’m sure they’d like to do the same.