A kidney is worth an iPhone and iPad?

I love my iPhone and iPad. I use them daily, excessively, adoringly, and ideally, exclusively. But we all know that they are not cheap and unlike other consumer products, Apple products tend to inspire insane behavior from both fans and detractors.

As much as I love these gadgets, sometimes it’s hard to reconcile the atrocities and horror stories that are involved in making and owning them. The working conditions at Foxconn, where Apple products are assembled, have been well documented, in spite of the recent Mike Daisey controversy. These are things that Apple is accountable for and things that Apple can change (and will change, according to Tim Cook, CEO of Apple). But is Apple responsible for what consumers do? Specifically, is Apple responsible for what consumers do to acquire an iPhone or iPad?

Regardless of your opinion, this Xinhua story from China has to make you shake your head. In short, a teenager from Anhui, one of the poorest provinces in China, sold his kidney last year to pay for an iPhone and iPad. WTF? The kid is now suffering renal failure and his condition is deteriorating. Five people, including a surgeon, is being charged with human organ trading, which was banned in 2007 (oddly enough, the iPhone was first released that year). Apparently the surgeon was paid 220,000 yuan ($35,000) for the operation. The teenage donor received 22,000 yuan. Other suspects are still being investigated.

So is Apple directly responsible for this outrageousness? Is this akin to blaming McDonald’s for making you fat. Or, blaming the cigarette companies for your lung cancer? There is no doubt that this kid from China is a victim here. But the real perpetrators are the con-men who took his kidney, not Apple. Right?

That gotta-have-it mentality that Apple fanboys have is similar to what I have observed in memorabilia collectors. Occasionally, I see the overwhelming desire to own certain props or costumes override better judgment. Some collectors would pawn their cars or take second (and third) mortgages, so they can pay for something that, in the big scheme of things, they do not need. Some clients live on credit, continually borrowing from Peter to pay Paul. At Profiles, we do not screen bidders for recklessness. Does that make Profiles guilty of enabling or perpetrating this behavioral disease? Perhaps memorabilia auctions are a dark microcosm of our capitalistic nature. After all, auctions let people, a.k.a. the market, decide the price. What they do to be able to afford that price is irrelevant to the auction house. Is this callous?

The fact of the matter is that the number of collectors who are financially irresponsible is small, while the vast majority of collectors are sensible and would collect within their means. It would be unfortunate and unfair for all collectors to be defined by a small minority. I think most fans of Apple would agree with that statement.


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