Justin Tadlock

The World Is Flat

Thomas L. Friedman's 'The World is Flat: A Brief History of the 21st Century

I started reading Thomas L. Friedman’s book sometime in late December or early January. It was a bit of a long book. Well, I read a lot of other things since then and now. But, I’m finally finished and am astounded. The book has opened my eyes to the situation America is in, that the world is in.

First, you must understand what he means when he says the world is flat. To define it simply, it means that there is now a level playing field, that everything isn’t necessarily controlled from the top down. America is still the world’s superpower, but the rest of the world is steadily catching up. Many will soon catch up and quite possibly surpass us economically and technologically.

He gives a detailed analysis of the 10 flatteners effecting the world right now, starting with the date 11/9/89 — the fall of the Berlin Wall. Next up was the date Netscape went public, 8/9/95. If there are any two dates you might want to know about before stepping into this book, those would be the two. They changed the world forever.

Another date to keep in mind is 9/11/2001. There’s no need to explain what happened that day on the surface, but underneath, something else resulted — America started shutting its doors in ways that could possibly make it not so super-powerful in the coming years.

The world is catching up with education. Fewer and fewer students are graduating in the vitally important fields of mathematics and science. However, in places such as India and China, most students get degrees in those fields, and we are closing our doors to many of those students. That factor, and many others, are causing us to lose ground. More American companies are going global, and they’ll hire the best from anywhere. “And we still do hire lots of Americans,” said Craig Barrett, Intel’s chairman. “But today we can hire the best talent around the world and be successful.”

Many services are being outsourced. Called any customer support number anytime in the last few years? There’s a good chance you didn’t talk to an American.

Friedman isn’t arguing that the flattening of the world is a bad thing. He’s arguing that America needs to wake up. It’s hard to stay innovative when you’re at the top. Those other countries have something to shoot for — America. America has to create something to shoot for, which is harder.

“Does your society have more memories than dreams,” Friedman asks. When you have dreams, you have a goal you’re aiming for. When you have memories, you’re thinking about the past. Let those memories overtake the dreams, and you’re country is doomed to lose its ground.

What the author wants to stress as the most important thing of all for America is education, specifically education in science and math. The moment we took over the world is the moment JFK decided to make these fields more important. It was the moment America decided that math and science would save our country. The moment it became something to strive for. And largely, America has lost that. Nobody’s interested in those fields anymore. That’s probably why I’ve encountered few American math or science teachers.

The next most important thing is that America cannot wall itself in. It will only slow our progress down. If we’re shutting out those people who are the best and brightest in those fields, we’re losing the people who will carry us into the future as leaders. We’re cutting off globalization, and that’s a bad thing.

I have to note that a major part of the book focuses on how anyone can make a name for him or her self. Since the world is becoming flat and losing the top-down heirarchy of previous workplaces, the little guy can actually make a difference in this new world. Take a look at YouTube or Ebay. There’s a definite change happening. Cultures are starting to understand other cultures. The little guy is making money with his Internet-based business. The world is changing drastically.

I can hardly cover the amount of material Friedman covered in his book. He focused on many fields, companies, and countries while researching. You must know that the Internet is a driving force behind the flattening of the world. There are also those who can take new technology and destroy this process. Mostly, the flattening of the world means better lives for everyone. He’ll ask you how many countries have gone to war with each other that has a McDonald’s. You’ll see there’s none, except for a few minor skirmishes.

Overall, Friedman does a good job laying out where we are now, what the future holds, and what we must do about it. America might not stay on top forever, but we should at least be prepared to live and work in a flat world.