Because Friedman begins his book, The World is Flat, with a fairly lengthy defense of its title, I’m going to begin by criticizing it. I have never read a book where the author has to explain so deliberately why he/she chose a given title. This is because if an author has to actually spell out the reason for a title, it’s probably a bad title. Likewise, Friedman’s explanation for his title, The World is Flat, makes no sense. That’s not to say that I didn’t understand the metaphor, because I did. It’s just ridiculous. How does increased international competition make the world flat? When people actually believed the world was flat, this belief was a great economic hindrance. For example, this lack of knowledge made certain trade routes arduous and costly. How, then, are technology advancement and globalization, both of which are huge economic facilitators that together connect the world in real time, being tied to that same idea? I had an instant distaste for Friedman’s logic, but I will end my criticism with that.
According to Friedman, have been three major eras of globalization, globalization 1.0, 2.0, and 3.0. Globalization 1.0 lasted between Columbus setting sail in 1492 and about 1800; globalization 2.0 lasted from 1800 to 2000; and globalization 3.0 happened at about 2000. The distinguishing factors are that globalization 1.0 was about countries as a whole, and how they competed with other countries. This era also focused on natural resources and how countries harnessed them. Globalization 2.0 was about companies going multinational as transportation costs came down. And finally, globalization 3.0 is about individuals competing against individuals as technology has made it possible to connect everyone. This will make competition much more diverse and outsourcing much more common.
It scared me as I read about globalization 3.0 because I am going into accounting, and to find out that a lot of accounting practices are being outsourced to places like Bangalore was more than slightly depressing. However, as I continued to read, I found comfort in the fact that outsourcing will create more opportunities for the country doing it. So really, it’s just a matter of change. The jobs available in the United States will not necessarily be fewer in number, they will just be different.
Friedman then begins laying out the ten forces that flattened the world, and he begins with the fall of the Berlin Wall. To Friedman, the fall of the Berlin Wall meant the obvious liberation of the people of the Soviet Union, but it also meant, on a greater scale, that the world as a whole had shifted towards democracy. It meant that individuals would be the ones with power, rather than huge, regulatory, centralized governments. It meant that capitalism would be the new direction for the world rather than communism or socialism. This was the first major force that would begin the “flattening” of the world. The fall of the wall allowed people to do what was most productive and most efficient.
The second force that flattened the world was the World Wide Web and its ability to connect everyday people without their knowing a lot about computers. The major flattening force in the midst of this was Netscape going public. The internet existed prior to Netscape, but Netscape offered an easy-to-use browser that even the most computer-illiterate people could operate. From that point, the number of internet users hasn’t stopped growing.
To end, I thought one of the most interesting insights Friedman had was that technology, while uniting the world, is also being used by terrorists and other enemies as a facilitator to our destruction. This rang true to me as I thought about organizations like Al Qaeda, which can, because of technology, infiltrate the United States while still maintaining contact with its leaders in foreign countries. What is being used for great things is also being used for terrible things.