Meet 24 year old Yuan Yandong, one of almost 500,000 workers employed by Foxconn. From 7:30 pm to 5:30 am, Yandong works the night shift, monotonously putting together over 1,600 hard drives a shift.
His task is to help complete 1,600 hard drives – his workshop’s daily quota – and to make sure every one is perfect. Seated in the middle of the assembly line in his black Foxconn sports shirt, cotton slacks and company-mandated white plastic slippers, he waits for the conveyor belt to deliver a partly assembled rectangular hard drive to his station. He places two plastic chips inside the drive’s casing, inserts a device that redirects light in the drive and then fastens four screws with an electric screwdriver before sending the drive down the line. He has exactly one minute to complete the multistep task.
Although Yandon describes the work as numbing, this New York Times profile piece does not make Yandong’s work seem particularly hellish. Perhaps the most disturbing detail in the entire piece is that Yandong is unaware that he is only legally allowed to work a maximimum of 36 overtime hours a month, saying that he more commonly works twice as much overtime, especially when big orders come in.
Working at Foxconn looks tedious make no mistake, but it doesn’t look obviously hellish: the psychological factors at play that are driving Foxconn’s workers are a lot more subtle than whip-lashing taskmasters.