Note — Oct 17, 2021

Remystifying Supply Chains

Many of us seem to have turned into supply chain watchers. Here Venkatesh Rao goes quite a bit further with an excellent exploration of supply chains, their relatively short history, the dearth of reliable models for analysis, and then presents the themes around which he understands them: “computation, circularity, and situatedness,” which “point to a great deal of phenomenology that’s either missing, or marginal in our mental models.” The “centering the mysteries” section with Rao’s examples of modelling problems is especially valuable, and so is the one on the emergent quality of the global system. I won’t be using his “mattervision” term, but be sure to checkout footnote 1 for further reading, and also my own notes on Benjamin Bratton’s writing which is in some ways adjacent.

Not just shipping containers full of durable manufactured goods, but bulk-carried materials, air-shipped perishables, seafood, livestock, piped materials, electricity, and so on. Viewed this way, the internet is just one supply chain among many, a bits-and-bytes-specific member of a cohort of technologies that date approximately to the 1960s. […]

Right now, for instance, world leaders are ponderously talking about how to hedge against China in alternate supply chain arrangements, but few have stopped to consider how supply chains actually emerge, learn, and grow over time. Or how we ended up wired to China in the first place. […]

Supply chains are a new class of engineered-emergent artifact, one that includes a few other globe-spanning things like the internet, the air travel system, and low earth orbit, that exist at a level of Gaian phenomenology, terraforming, and planet-scale husbandry