Andrew Curry has an interesting article about how more than any other single innovation, the shipping container epitomizes the enormity, sophistication, and importance of our modern transportation system. Invisible to most people, but fundamental to how practically everything in our consumer-driven lives works. "Think of the shipping container as the Internet of thing," says Curry. "Just as your email is disassembled into discrete bundles of data the minute you hit send, then re-assembled in your recipient's inbox later, the uniform, ubiquitous boxes are designed to be interchangeable, their contents irrelevant." Last year the world's container ports moved 560 million 20-foot containers. Even cars and trucks—known in the trade as "RoRo," or "roll-on, roll-off" cargo—are increasingly being loaded into containers rather than specialized ships. "Containers are just a lot easier," says James Rice. "A box is a box. All you need is a vessel, a berth, and a place to put the container on the ground.
Consider the economics of a T-shirt sewn at a factory near Beijing. The total time in transit for a typical box from a Chinese factory to a customer in Europe might be as little as 35 days. Cost per shirt? "Less than one U.S. cent," says Rainer Horn. "It doesn't matter anymore where you produce something now, because transport costs aren't important."