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I, iPhone

Last week David Pilling wrote an interesting column in the Financial Times about disruptions the global supply chain has suffered as a result of natural disasters this year, and how the disruptions have prevented the companies affected from bringing their products to market. The column reminded me of one of my favorite essays of all-time- I, Pencil- which I’ve republished here.

For those of you who have never read I, Pencil, it illustrates how for a single pencil to be made thousands of people from all over the world must come together to provide the wood, graphite, paint, chemicals, components for industrial machinery, and so on. As the essay observes, the multitudes of people from all over the world who contribute to the manufacturing of the pencil rarely know who each other are, but the competitive market draws them all together into a spontaneously choreographed industrial endeavor: the production of a pencil.

Implicit in the essay is how incredibly complex the global supply chain is, and how a high level of specialization is needed to produce the tiniest parts of the simplest products. Pilling explicates the complexity of the global supply chain by describing how the tsunami in Japan earlier this year, and the recent flooding in Thailand, have stopped parts of the global supply chain in its tracks, making it virtually impossible to produce certain products. Continue reading