A PAEAN to the shipping container, that 1950s invention that changed the world's economy forever:
As a child living in relatively close proximity to a port, the sight of these large metal boxes offered a sense of wonderment, both an aesthetic joy at their geometric simplicity, and bafflement at what was in there behind those heavy doors. The geographer David Harvey has argued that these objects play a critical role in the changing nature of our cities, our politics, our labor, as well as our shopping habits. Without the container, cities like the Port of London would not have changed in such a dramatic manner. Harvey calls this process deindustrialization—the removal of a region’s heavy industry. Likewise, without the container and deindustrialization, the availability of cheap imports from China and other emerging economies would not have been possible.
Such claims might seem somewhat farfetched given the apparent simplicity of the shipping container: a standardized steel box in lengths of 20, and 40 feet by approximately 8 feet square. But consider the number of these boxes circulating the globe (let alone those lying abandoned in yards): in early 2011 there was a global fleet of nearly 5,000 container ships each carrying roughly 14 million containers. We take shipping container for granted precisely because of the sheer quantity of them moving around us. They are so common as to disappear. And as with similar objects, it’s only when things go wrong that we begin to recognize their presence.
Read the rest; and while you're at it, don't miss this about pallets: “The Single Most Important Object in the Global Economy”