The modern marvel that moves commodities, sub-assemblies, finished product, and people across the planet is largely invisible. Except when I’m bumped from an overbooked flight. Or when I can’t buy your favorite kind of candy because the trucks to move the containers from the ships to the stores are in the wrong place. Or when one can’t build a car in Germany because semiconductor fabrication plants aren’t as elastic as some executive thought they were. Then it becomes all too apparent that the default state of transportation is, absent considerable effort and coordination, for the wheels to fly off constantly.
Hence, A Brief Introduction to Container Logistics is a great primer for understanding the weird state of our world:
The whole shipping process involves dozens of actors, from the exporter, through a long chain of companies who handle the container (incurring costs on behalf of the shipment), all the way to the importer. This creates a trust problem: who is responsible for the problems that arise when one part of this chain goes wrong? Some of these companies are hired by the shipping company, others by the exporter or importer, or even by a logistics company acting as a middle man. This is usually solved by some kind of chain of custody, where any problem with the container must be immediately noted and complained about by the relevant party.
Adjacent: Venkatesh Rao, Remystifying Supply Chains:
Supply chains are a new class of engineered-emergent artifact, one that includes a few other globe-spanning things like the internet, the air travel system, and low earth orbit, that exist at a level of Gaian phenomenology, terraforming, and planet-scale husbandry. We only ever catch local glimpses of these things. The wholes are too big to fit in a single human mind, and the physical embodiments are too vast to capture even on a single map, let alone in a single photograph.
We have to understand these beasts, in all their evolving, learning glory, while living within their bellies. Abstract slicing and dicing of the phenomenology, via aspects like computation, circularity, and situatedness, can only get us so far. To finish the picture, we have to develop a sensitivity to how we inhabit these beasts at a human scale.