Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The Migration Patterns of the Shipping Container

BBC News has bought a shipping container, outfitted it with a GPS Unit, and set it free to track the migration patterns of the 21st century global economy. Here's their description of the project, from bbc.co.uk/thebox:

"We have painted and branded a BBC container and bolted on a GPS transmitter so you can follow its progress all year round as it criss-crosses the globe. The Box will hopefully reach the US, Asia, the Middle East , Europe and Africa and when it does BBC correspondents will be there to report on who's producing goods and who's consuming them."
It's a brilliant journalistic conceit: everywhere the box stops to drop off or pick up a load of cargo, the BBC has a new story to tell about global business.

Moreover, the migratory routes of shipping containers are generally poorly understood to anyone who lacks an insider's proprietary knowledge. As the box moves around the globe, the BBC will track its progress on this online map, along with details about its cargo (so far, it's gone from the port of Southampton in southern England, overland to Scotland to pick up a load of whiskey, and back, by sea, to Southampton, where it's allegedly awaiting a ship to take it to thirsty Asia).  At the end of the year-long project, the BBC and its audience will have a rough map of the game paths of global commerce, and dozens of stories about the businesses, people, and economic conditions that shaped its path.

So, just as conservation biologists attach satellite transceivers to track the migratory routes of things like sea turtles to learn about the animals' habitat needs, habits, and response to things like storms and currents...

... so the BBC project should provide a rough idea of how, and where, products in the global economy respond to supply, demand, monetary crises, resource shortages, and other natural phenomena of international capitalism. I now have yet another website to track obsessively.

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