Dan W

Software Developer

Introducing Postcards from a Supply Chain

Jan 5, 2015

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Last summer I spent a few weeks in China. I was travelling with Unknown Fields, a nomadic design studio, so it was far from a conventional holiday. Previously Unknown Fields trips have included things like driving around US military outposts on a converted school bus while interviewing conspiracy theorists or exploring Chernobyl before catching a train to Baikonur.

This time the plan was to follow the electronics supply chain back to it's source. This included a week aboard a Maersk container ship, the electronics factories of Shenzhen, the commodity markets & christmas workshops of Yiwu, the 'ghost' city of Ordos, and the rare earth metal mines & refineries of Baotou.

There were 18 of us making the voyage, including group leaders Kate Davies & Liam Young, writer Tim Maughan, artist Sascha Pohflepp, architect Zhan Wang, photographers Toby Smith & Richard John Seymour, information designer Sha Hwang, and filmmaker Alice Masters.

Since the trip I've been trying to work out how best to document it. I carried a GPS logger, a software defined radio dongle for recording AIS signals (thanks Jonty!), a GoPro and a camera with me. I'm particularly looking at how a software developer might explore supply chains, as opposed to a writer or photographer or filmmaker or artist.

So far I've done slideshows about the experience. I've posted a few photos to flickr, but there are far better photographers on the trip posting nicer images. I've stuck a crude timelapse on vimeo, but Toby has a whopping 4k ship timelapse on YouTube. I've written a blog post about Yiwu Market, but Tim has covered Yiwu as part of his BBC series about the journey. So what else can I contribute?

Postcards is my answer. Small pieces, frequently posted. The format will fluctuate from photos & videos to stories & data visualisations. Think less like Rose George's Ninety Percent of Everything, and more like Matt Sheret's The Bureau of Small Observation.

It's mostly going to be anecdotes and half-remembered details. I didn't record conversations and I lost one of my notebooks somewhere in Yiwu. Conversations will be paraphrased and recalled from memory. It certainly wont be Proper Journalism. But there will be lots of shipping containers.

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