Friday 2 January 2015

How Things Change

Below is the sale information on a new book.  It is the broad perspective of what seemed to be a simple practical change in shipping cargo has led almost to a new world.

This is a subject that has fascinated me for several reasons.  One is that in the early 1970's when going in and out of Felixstowe it was impossible not to see the effects of the new development of container shipping.

Clearly, it was going to lead to substantial changes in the way freight was moved both between and within countries and also the way docks and dockers worked.  As it proved in that period.

Given the critical role of the docker's trade unions both in the Labour Party and other socialist groups and in the economy as a whole  it was going to be a very rough ride.

What I, a relatively informed observer, and many others, notably in government and in business, did not see was the scale and nature of all the changes that would occur as a consequence.  We were all badly caught out, especially those in and seeking power.

Hat tip to Diane Coyle of "The Enlightened Economist" for the link that led to this post.  The book is by Alexander Klose and titled: "The Container Principle: How A Box Changes The Way We Think".


We live in a world organized around the container. Standardized twenty- and forty-foot shipping containers carry material goods across oceans and over land; provide shelter, office space, and storage capacity; inspire films, novels, metaphors, and paradigms.

Today, TEU (Twenty Foot Equivalent Unit, the official measurement for shipping containers) has become something like a global currency. A container ship, sailing under the flag of one country but owned by a corporation headquartered in another, carrying auto parts from Japan, frozen fish from Vietnam, and rubber ducks from China, offers a vivid representation of the increasing, world-is-flat globalization of the international economy.

In The Container Principle, Alexander Klose investigates the principle of the container and its effect on the way we live and think. Klose explores a series of "container situations" in their historical, political, and cultural contexts.

He examines the container as a time capsule, sometimes breaking loose and washing up onshore to display an inventory of artifacts of our culture. He explains the "Matryoshka principle," explores the history of land-water transport, and charts the three phases of container history.

He examines the rise of logistics, the containerization of computing in the form of modularization and standardization, the architecture of container-like housing (citing both Le Corbusier and Malvina Reynolds's "Little Boxes"), and a range of artistic projects inspired by containers.

Containerization, spreading from physical storage to organizational metaphors, Klose argues, signals a change in the fundamental order of thinking and things. It has become a principle.


For a bang on the head try reading this blog that explains the Matryoshka Principle for software in relatively simple terms.  I did say relatively.

Back in the 70's and early '80's there were a few young guys kicking around with high techie stuff that was interesting but most thought probably was never going to amount to much beyond numbers grinding.

College principals and others were telling politicians that any of it was only for limited numbers of highly qualified experts.  Some politicians, notably on the Left, felt it should be controlled in detail and licensed by local authorities.

What happened next?


  1. As a little light relief. In 1983 the MOD needed to build a new jetty in Port Stanley. To do this they filled containers with ballast and then sank them. They built the jetty on top. The sad news is that they were on hire. MOD paid out for twenty years for that little mistake.