Thomas Friedman is a well known columnist for the New York Times and the person to turn to for answers about this country’s economy and where it’s headed. The premiere hardcover edition of The World is Flat hit the bookshelves in April of 2006, and in that time it has gone through a second edition in hardcover, and finally a third edition in both paperback and hardcover. Friedman’s excuse for updating is that the world is constantly changing, necessitating further chapters in his book. One wonders if there may be a “Release 4.0” in the paperback; only time and our ever-changing present will tell. Nevertheless, The World is Flat is a truly unique book, whether it be for a student of economics, or a person looking for answers to why outsourcing is getting so out of control.
Friedman begins with an introduction to how he discovered that the world had become flat; noticing details here and there in his travels around the world, and then putting it all together. He then leads into his ten forces that flattened the world, explaining how they came to be, what effect they had on the “flattening” of the world, and how some are continuing to do so. These include two important dates: 11/9/89, which was when the Berlin Wall came down and eastern Europe and Russia joined the rest of the world once again; and 8/9/95 when Netscape first released its browser to computer owners, allowing them to surf this new thing called the Internet. Friedman hits every important step in the way business has changed in the last three decades: from Wal-Mart’s ingenuity in supply-chaining, leading to the incredible system whereby a product is purchased at a Wal-Mart store sending a message to the supplier which immediately starts making another copy of that product; to software development in its original free form with LINUX; to the light speed development of sites like MySpace, Facebook, and online blogs where everyone has a voice; to the existence of large buildings in places like Bangalore, India, housing thousands of customer service representatives helping American customers thousands of miles away with anything from credit card bills to cellphone technical questions.
With these ten factors serving as a basis for how and why the world has become flattened, Friedman takes the reader on a trip around the world, elucidating exactly why when we call for help now, the chances of getting a person with an accent who’s native language isn’t English are incredibly high. But isn’t this what America is all about? Perhaps not, when the person you are talking to is on the other side of the world, and that this is somehow cheaper and better for the company you are calling that using an American citizen who could be just a few miles away. While Friedman does have some answers, it is clear that America and the world is at a turning point, much like the beginning of the twentieth century when there was the roaring beast of industrialization, and the explosion of the assembly-line system of the Model T Ford. One can certainly expect more from Friedman in the coming years, as new and inconceivable changes happen before our very eyes. For now, The World is Flat is the only guidebook we have, and it does its job to a T.
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Originally written on September 13th 2007 ©Alex C. Telander.