It takes a digital humanist to make this kind of argument. I don’t mean to invoke the turf-fencing debate about what the digital humanities means, I mean to honor a question that forces us to remind ourselves that we are the Eloi, the pampered elite whose world of comfort exists only because of the toil of the underground Morlocks. The makers among us can, perhaps, aim to be partially enlightened Eloi, but we can’t have our technology and our Robinson Crusoe dream of a life of off-the-grid independence.
In the past 15 years, the circumstances of the production of our digital world have continued to be largely hidden. Only recently—I’d say the death of Steve Jobs might be a turning point—has more attention been paid to the way our PCs, consoles, tablets, and smart phones are produced. High profile accidents and mass suicides (and the threat of more) at Foxconn factories, where iPads and Xboxes are made, have been headline news. The radio show This American Life recently featured a look inside a factory that manufactures iPhones. And in September 2011, the radical game studio Molleindustria even released Phone Story, a meta-game for the iPhone about how iPhones are made. Apple promptly banned the game from the iTunes App Store, in part due to its depiction of the abuse of children—children who under the watchful eyes of armed militias in the Congo mine the coltan that goes into the iPhone.