What gets adored … and what doesn’t

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A typical working day in Chengdu means getting up at 6:30 am, catching a bus for the 30-minute ride to the factory at 7:10 am and attending a compulsory – but unpaid – assembly at 8:10 am, before starting work at 8:30 am. Shifts, including overtime and breaks, end at 8:30 pm. Night shifts follow a similar pattern; with demand for the iPad2 outstripping supply in many countries, this is a round-the-clock operation. Demand for the first iPad was so intense that workers claim they had to put in a seven-day week during peak production period.” –from the April 30 edition of The Guardian newspaper

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The late Steve Jobs, the founder and brains behind Apple, is rightly being eulogized today as a “creative genius” for the changes he’s wrought with his technological wonders; not just in terms of the way those technologies – iTunes, the iPod, the iPhone, the iPad, and the MacIntosh computer, just to name a few – permeate modern human life, but also for the vast societal and social changes they’ve helped initiate over the years.

In trucking, perhaps the most recognizable change fostered by Jobs centers around the conversion from paper-based record keeping and communication pathways to an all-digital environment.

Take his most recent brainchild, the iPad, for example, and look at how it’s being used to deploy a

new system from Vigillo’s, which takes information gathered by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s (FMCSA) pre-employment screening program (PSP) and then coverts it into a CSA score –shorthand for the agency’s new Compliance, Safety, Accountability program.

Steve Bryan, Vigillo’s CEO, showed how this “data conversion” process works via an iPad below:

Yet the irony inherent to all of Apple’s technological wonders and seismic societal shifts they’ve created over the decades stems from its manufacturing and supply chain practices.

It’s no secret all of Apple’s products are put together via the hands of hundreds of thousands of Chinese laborers in Chinese factories and then shipped thousands of miles back to the eager hands, homes, and businesses of U.S. customers.

Such massive corporate “off shoring” of jobs and production facilities has come under fire in this nation for years now (Wal-Mart in particular has been aggressively targeted over this issue) yet rarely has Apple or Jobs been placed in the firing line over it.

Indeed, nary a mention of this even comes from President Obama, who rightly lauded Jobs as a “visionary” on the White House’s blog today – even though this is a President that’s been particularly vocal on the subject of off shoring U.S. jobs, especially computer engineering positions.

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Now, point of full disclosure here – I myself own Apple iPods and shuffles, have an iTunes account, and am preparing to add even more Apple products (computers and iPhones) to my family’s technology stable. So I’m not exactly voting against Apple’s manufacturing and supply chain practices with my wallet, as perhaps I should.

Then again, neither is anyone else. Unions and everyday protestors aren’t surrounding Apple’s headquarters or picketing any of its stories across the country like what’s happening on Wall Street. In fact, most likely a goodly portion of those Wall Street protestors are using Apple products to communicate their beefs and share photos and video of their activities with the world.

The point I’m making here is that when we, as a nation, like something (and we practically adore, if not worship, the gadgets and systems produced by Apple) then integrate it into our lives to a high degree, we tend to sweep under the carpet any negatives about it – even if we lambast other companies and industries for the exact same negatives.

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And let’s look at another issue tied to this discussion: energy policy. As more and more information goes digital, replacing paper-based records, more and more energy is required to support it. Yet we still lack a comprehensive and practical energy policy to address this ever growing demand for electricity and other fuels.

Take for example this recent story from the Wall Street Journal newspaper: How North Dakota Became Saudi Arabia.

Despite the potential create thousands of jobs, create a huge domestic supply of diesel and gasoline, plus generate what could be trillions of dollars in federal land royalty payments that could help take a significant bite out of the nearly $15 trillion deficit, we shove it out of sight.

Why? Because it’s “oil” and thus it’s “bad,” according to the American psyche and the very same mindset retards efforts to develop natural gas reserves, mine coal, and develop nuclear power plants across our nation as well.

Sure we want more “green energy” sources, produced by wind turbines and solar collectors. But those two sources can only at most satisfy a paltry 2% of the energy demand in this country – demand fueled in part by all those wonderful, can’t-live-without-them gizmos from Apple that are changing not only how we live, work, and relax, but how we consume energy on a daily basis.

It’s a tough paradox to address, no doubt, but it’s one we need to face at some point in the near future – mayhap via an app developed on an iPad no less.

What's Trucks at Work?

Trucks at Work: Sean Kilcarr comments on trends affecting the many different strata of the trucking industry.

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