Talk to a future-technology brand evangelist (sadly a real thing), and they’ll probably tell you that the Internet of Things is the next up-and-coming trend. But for the last 40 years, a very different kind of network of interconnected stuff has been quietly revolutionizing the global economy.

Shipping containers, being at heart a 8x8x20 steel box, are not a sexy or glamorous technology — in fact, you probably don’t think of them as a technology. But as Tom Scott succinctly explains, the shipping container network — containers as packets, ports as routers, and ISO standards the protocols holding everything together — has altered the way companies and countries do business.

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Contact the author at chris@gizmodo.com.

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