Friday, February 13, 2009

Following The Big Red Box

Every now and then, an idea comes along that is novel, educational, profound and entertaining.

Such an idea is embodied by the BBC's Box Project.

In short, the BBC painted a shipping container with their logo and website. They attached a GPS tracking system. They then sent it in September of 2008 to Southampton where it entered the great, global pool of shipping containers owned by NYK Line. They then have proceeded to track its progress around the world.

It has carried Chivas Regal from Scotland to Shanghai, household goods and make-up from Shanghai to Pennsylvania via Los Angeles and household goods from Newark to Santos, Brazil.

You can get all the details (and follow the box yourself) at the above BBC Box Project link.

There are so many great things about this project. First, it pays tribute to one of the unsung heroes of the modern global economy: containerized shipping. If you consume, well, nearly anything that you didn't grow or make yourself, there is about a 90% chance that that thing spent some time in a shipping container.

Goods in shipping containers get loaded and unloaded quicker which allows for a greater volume which, in turn, allows for lower prices for producers, shippers and consumers. Products get to their destinations quicker because shipping containers are intermodal, meaning that the containers can go from ship to rail or truck without being unpacked. Goods also pass through customs faster and there is little deadheading (empty containers...not at all related to Jerry and the boys). Shipments enter large container terminals and can be on the way to their final destinations within hours.

Think about the implications of all of this. This forty foot long metal box and how it is handled influences all aspects of your life every day and has done so for almost the last forty years.

To put it another way, and relate it to a previous post, it makes the idea of the "Iowa Car Crop" possible.

So, the next time you are driving down the highway (or stopped at a railroad crossing) and rusty metal boxes are whizzing past you, think of how they influence your life and how you live it on a daily basis.

The most profound notions often emerge from the simplest of things. I think this is a great example of just that.

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