What does the Internet of Things have in common with containerisation? Not a great deal on the face of it. The shipping container is a purely functional physical object with storage and transport as its main job. It carries stuff, in a word. IoT is, in theory, a way of connecting billions of everyday items across vast distances to produce efficiencies and revenue-earning opportunities we may not even be aware of yet.
Which is the answer to my earlier question. The arrival of the shipping container was hardly heralded with flags and editorial comment. It took a while, in fact, for ships and docks to be refitted and rebuilt to accommodate the idea that a diverse section of goods could arrive on a truck and be place on a ship with limited human intervention.
The effect, however, was beyond anyone’s imagining. Dockside labour all but disappeared. Transport costs plummeted. Factories could relocate halfway across the world in the knowledge that getting goods to their destination could cost less than fabricating them at home and putting them on the motorway. Container ships grew in size. Shipping lanes were widened and deepened to accommodate them. In short, more than just about anything except the internet itself, a large metal box ushered in globalisation and transformed, for good and ill, the lives of everyone on the planet. And few people – almost none, in fact – saw it coming. What could the simple business of putting a miniscule device on an object, repeated billions of times, bring about?