Author of Aerotropolis: The Way We'll Live Next
Greg Lindsay, author of Aerotropolis: The Way We'll Live Next, on the the colonization of time and space by FedEx.
Interview transcript: Greg Lindsay
Logistics represents the original total colonization of 24/7 mobility. The vast bulk of logistics, as we know it, it is what happens in the nighttime — the dead hours of the clock. The freeways are filled with truck drivers at night, and that's when everything is processed at the FedEx hub in Memphis. Really, logistics is the conquest of lost time, in a quest to maximize mobility.
Of course, geography is also important. From talking to FedEx and UPS, when you are doing air and trucking, it really just boils down to geography and time zones. The original air hubs were chosen based on this idea of the "cargo alley," which is a swathe of cities that are in the central time zone so that you can make it to both coasts and back, and that are below the frost line, so you don't have a significant weather disruption. Memphis gets snow once every half a century or something like that. The furthest north you can go is Champaign, Illinois. You don't want to go further east than Columbus and Eastern Kentucky, you can go as far south as Memphis, and as far west as Little Rock or the Mississippi. That is basically where you put an air hub.
An interesting example of this geography changing, and yet having to remain the same, is in the Far East. FedEx had their hub in the Philippines for years because it was perfect for serving the Pan-Asia region, and then they moved it to China for geo-political reasons —but it's still on the same latitude. It had to be, in order to cover the region.
I think the trucking hubs are all based on overlapping concentric regions. Amazon is an interesting case study in that case, in that they really expanded from the centralized model and they have increasingly decentralized over time. I don't know exactly how — they were very unforthcoming when I tried to talk to them. For these companies, how they move things around is proprietary information. They won't discuss it in the same way that Google will not even acknowledge how many data centers it actually has. The stuff they are most secretive about is their software. FedEx has an IT budget of one billion dollars a year. What most people don't know is that those companies are some of the largest technology companies in the world, too.