November 14, 2012


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By Andy Hirsch

LEWISBURG, Pa. — In "The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs," famed monologist Mike Daisey set out to shine a light on the dark side of the Apple devices that so many can't live without — the brutal conditions under which he claims iPhones, iPads and other gadgets are made. The play turned into a topic for the Bucknell Forum's new series, "tech/no," which explores the positive and negative consequences of technology.

"To think about this sort of ethos deep in Apple's DNA — technology makes your life better — even though it seems as if it is being made in horrible conditions that make other people's lives worse. That juxtaposition is so jarring," said Jordi Comas, assistant professor of management and Bucknell Forum Task Force member. "It really speaks to what 'tech/no' is all about."

After seeing the show in New York City, members of the forum task force began the work of bringing it to Bucknell. Then came Daisey's interview on the public radio program "This American Life." Daisey's claims in the play and the interview that he witnessed human rights violations at Apple's manufacturing plant in China began to unravel.

"Suddenly Daisey was immersed in this controversy, and clearly he made some mistakes. He didn't see or experience all the things he claimed," Comas said. "We on the task force felt that as part of an educational institution part of our job was not to back away from this type of controversy, but instead to explore the full complexity of it."

Using Daisey's original script, which he had voluntarily released royalty-free to the world under an open license prior to the controversy, the task force began creating the performance. They didn't alter anything Daisey said, but removed parts of his script immaterial to the question of his and Apple's competing descriptions of Apple's Chinese manufacturing operations. Then, with the help of several students, they added a series of of intrusions throughout the performance that foreground the questions Daisey and the controversy raised — including whose version of events is accurate, how do we determine the truth, and what role does technology and cultural difference have in our moral judgments. All the intrusions come from published reports and media, and include excerpts from "This American Life," Apple's ground-breaking "1984 " commercial, and statements by Steve Jobs.

"We are promoting a conversation about ethics and morals through a complex, engaging, multimedia experience," said Professor Emeritus of Theater and Dance Bob Gainer, who is directing the performance. "Only theater can engage an audience in this entertaining, provocative way. It's not a ponderous kind of lecture in which we dictate and deliver our wisdom to the audience. It's an imaginative conversation."

Nick Stetz, a senior management major, jumped at the opportunity to help with the production. "It's an extremely thought provoking play. It not only informs the audience of Apple's presence in China, it also allows people to form their own opinions on the issues raised," Stetz said. "The performance will definitely keep you wanting to know what happens next."

"un/real and un/true: The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs," will star Alex Lyras '93, an award-winning performer and writer. The show takes place on Tuesday, Nov. 27, at 7:30 p.m. in Trout Auditorium of the Vaughan Literature Building. It is free and open to the public.

The Bucknell Forum
"tech/no" embraces technology and its perils and promises. The series, which will run through four semesters, aims to stir discussion about the pros and cons of technology, its benefits and damages, its legitimate promises and false panaceas, and its capacity to satisfy human need and desire even as it can bring risk and danger.

The series debuted on Oct. 23 with a talk by Twitter co-founder Biz Stone. Future forum events include:

  • A discussion with Rebecca Skloot, author of the bestselling The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. This event will take place on Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2013, at 7:30 p.m. in Trout Auditorium. Skloot will also hold a book signing after the event.
  • "The Brave New World of the 'New Media,'" with Arianna Huffington, president and editor—in—chief of the Huffington Post Media Group. The event will be held at the Weis Center for the Performing Arts on Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2013, at 7:30 p.m.

Speakers are being sought to explore how technology has affected a range of areas, which might include social change, human relationships, culture, politics, medicine, science, the environment, globalization, education, journalism, business and more. Suggestions for speakers can be sent to

Contact: Division of Communications