Our Modern World

One of my laptop computers has finally died, after three+ years. Always a bittersweet moment: sad for the expense and hassle, quietly excited for the excuse to shop around and see what the intervening years have offered on the tech front.

So I order a new one, a snazzy improved model, about which intend to say more later. En route tracking info has just arrived from the major US-brand producer. (OK, Apple.) I have to compliment them on truth-in-advertising, or at least truth-in-tracking.


I don't remember manufacturers being this explicit about the pickup point the last time I ordered a computer online. The "picked up in Shanghai" notation is evidence of the process I described in the magazine several years ago - an order being placed on the website of Apple (or some other US company), and ten seconds later, work on "order fulfillment" getting underway up in a factory in Shenzhen, Xiamen (for Dell), or the environs. I'll assume that FedEx deserves the credit for being this transparent about where the package is actually starting out -- by which I mean, I'll bet that when the package arrives, Apple's "return" address will be in California, Illinois, or some place domestic-sounding, not "Shanghai CN." Whoever is responsible, I appreciate having this extra bit of realistic data about the world.

No implied policy point here: it's just interesting, and it's the first time I remember seeing such data on the "track your package" site for something I've bought. And, if you go back to the original article, you'll see an explanation of how so much of the money from this kind of transaction ends up in the hands of Apple (Dell, HP, Toshiba, etc), Intel (AMD, etc), FedEx (DHL, etc) rather than of the Chinese subcontractors who put it all together -- and of why the Chinese government is trying so hard to figure out how to capture more of those gains for its own companies.
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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.

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