Courtesy of a generous friend who shares my interests in reading and current affairs, I recently had the opportunity to read The World Is Flat, by New York Times Op-Ed contributor Thomas L. Friedman (website).
Friedman is a foreign affairs columnist with a nose for the globalization trail. His extensive travel, respect for other cultures, and immersion in the issues of the day make him well-qualified to author this sort of work, as attested by both The New York Times Bestseller List and Amazon's Top Sellers List.
The subtitle, A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century, is somewhat misleading: a "Brief History" of a five-year period shouldn't require 600 pages. Only a journalist would get away with that. However, caloric composition aside, Friedman's style skims along, bursting with stories and statistics. He seamlessly blends brisk reporting with somber social/ethical analysis, and obviously understands the average English reader rather well.
The book traces the development of the internet, discusses new economic forces, and weighs the pros and cons of globalization, along with interspersed essays on education, environmentalism, and ethics. In more ways than one, this is a big book.
Because of the technology available today, the playing field is being leveled. Adolescent countries, such as China and India, are taking advantage of the new tools and infrastructure and entering the global economy en masse. This unprecedented talent pool and capability to network and collaborate is dismantling geographic, political, and social boundaries faster than you can say "horizontal". The world is flat.
Overall, Friedman views globalization in a positive light, although he is careful to point out the less attractive side-effects. I applauded his appraisal of America's lazy, elitist mentality as he states "flatly" that "You cannot protect your way to prosperity." Later on, however, he seemed to retreat on this point, arguing for at least some degree of social sugar-coating - "compassionate flatism" - to soften the healthy but harsh effects of a global economic meritocracy.
When I was first looking into the subject, I watched this Charlie Rose interview with Thomas about the book that provides an excellent synopsis of Friedman's findings, feelings, and fears. (The interview forced Friedman to overcome his drafty journalistic tendencies and cut to the point, making for a very effective presentation of the big picture. If you're not going to read the book, this is an excellent way to familiarize yourself with the main ideas.) There is another interview here, again with Charlie Rose, following up on the success of the book and surveying the road ahead.
It does not take a prophet to say that 50 years from now, should the Lord tarry, 2007 will be cemented in the iron grip of history. Our dreams and decisions are directly linked to our awareness of our world and the trends, truths, and tragedies that shape it. Are we building a legacy of astute attentiveness, or altruistic apathy?
Image courtesy of amazon.com and kanthak.net