For any South Park fans out there familiar with the hilariously funny "Underpants Gnomes" episode poking fun at the dot com era (Step 1: Steal underpants. Step 3: Profit.... "But what about Step 2?"), I think I've found a similar story. We'll just call it the "Shipping Gnomes".

Get this: I went up to Apple's iPod site and ordered one of the shiny new Apple iPods that plays video. I ordered it on Tuesday, May 2, at 11:58pm (Pacific Time). Because it needed to be here by early next week, I paid $11 USD for 2-day shipping. Estimated delivery date? May 8th.

BUT... when I arrived at my desk a few minutes ago (~10:15am Pacific), what should appear but a package from "ACI"... (i.e. Apple). So, in less than 48 hours, I had the iPod in hand and it was shipped from, of all places, Shanghai. Looking at the shipping manifest from the shipper, it actually passed through Anchorage, AK, Indianapolis, IN, and then here to Seattle. What made this even more amazing was the fact that it was custom-engraved (for free, of course) as well.

I guess this means the new Gnome story goes something like, "Step 1: Order iPod. Step 3: Enjoy!" (..."but what about step 2?")

On a more serious note, this highlights how the US and Chinese economies are so tightly intertwined. With recent bickering over commerce strategy, what often gets dismissed are the real benefits consumers realize from a more global marketplace. Sure - there are are issues - such as how much someone is paid to engrave an iPod (or more likely - program an engraving tool on the factory floor), questions of how fair that wage is (offshore or for competing factories in the US), and what impact it has on the economy in both countries. I'm not interested in taking a stance on any of those things here. I'm simply asking the question: how amazing is it that I can order a product, have it custom-engraved, get it delivered to me in less than 48 hrs from half-way around the world, and have it cost about the same as it would if I walk in the door at the local "Apple Store"? Mind blowing...