"The World is Flat"--Sitting on the Cusp of a New Millennium
"The World is Flat" by Thomas L. Friedman, Paperback, ISBN 978-0-1410-3489-8, pages-660, Penguin Books 2006
Aha! What a relief! Finally I have reached the end of the flat world. It has been a momentous journey, I must say. Not by jet plane, nor by any cruising ocean-liner, nor by hitch-hiking. It is a journey through the voluminous revised edition of Thomas Friedman's "The World is Flat".
As I started poring over the initial few chapters, they gave me an impression that I was reading something about the technological progress that got shaped in the last couple of decades of twentieth century. Then as I progressed, the book unfolded its scheme, chapter by chapter and section by section, explaining with examples how business flourished on the wake of some path-breaking technologies. The new business processes embraced wider platforms with trans-continental connectivity giving rise to greater collaboration; the vertical organisations slowly withered away yielding place for horizontal participation; the work flow disaggregated itself so as to get distributed component by component among those who showed their abilities to perform them more efficiently and at lower cost. At this stage I came to know that the book was trying to explain the new phenomenon called outsourcing and the plight of American people, left in the lurch, who happened to face the grim consequences of the flight of their jobs. It was like a seismic transformation that nobody on earth could have ever averted. With a concern for his fellow countrymen rendered jobless because of the paradigm shift, the author opened his bundle of prescriptions, painstakingly researched and forcefully presented, not only for the readers to appreciate them but also for the US govt. to follow. Then my journey through the thicket of narratives progressed. Now it was the turn to discuss how the new environment threw open a plethora of opportunities for all those who were willing to adapt themselves and who could imagine and act with firm conviction that the new technologies and the collaborating platform would deliver. In fact, the age of liberation and entrepreneurship had finally arrived when the big started doing small and small the big not for their sheer existence but for excellence. At this point I thought I was reading a 'how-to' treatise written for aspiring entrepreneurs, and it happened to be a really inspiring one at that. As I neared the end, the book was having something really brilliant to offer. Here the author turned a concerned citizen of the globe. How to arrest the progress of those non-state terrorists who, along with the peace-loving entrepreneurs, equally benefitted from the new technologies became the focus of his narratives. To cut the long narratives short, the book not only imparted to me everything about a flat world but also made me circle the globe-many times before I reached its concluding chapter.
This is how I read Friedman's "The World is Flat", not at a stretch but slowly and on and off during the last couple of months, and all the while I had only one thing to guard against: I should not miss even a paragraph out of this. The pressure of an unfinished book should not lead me to resort to that. In fact I could not afford to. It is a book full of anecdotes culled together from author's extensive study tours around four continents, gathered from his extensive interviews of CEOs of forward-looking enterprises, the organisers of NGOs, the top names in research and policy planning, the economists engaged in comprehending and explaining the unprecedented twists and turns of the new millennium, the students grappling for directions.... Sometimes it may appear as if Friedman has got his words echoed back to him from his subjects of interview, especially when he is seeking to validate his pet phrase, the eponymous phrase "The Flat Word", but on the whole, his narratives are only too gripping, each of their words emphatically and logically supporting the conclusion he seeks to derive. He is way too generous in mentioning names of all those people he met and interviewed-and there are many from India and China gloriously referred to-so much so that it appeared as if Friedman is a clever blogger linking all the bloggers that come his way so that the popularity of his blog shoots up for a win-win blogging strategy! While discussing the challenges ahead and the means available to us to overcome them, the author turns a preacher, one who has the necessary spiritual insight into the paradoxes of the twenty-first century. He throws bare the soul of a worried man, a concerned man whose only worry seems to be: Can we leave behind us a world safer than what we see today, protected from the annihilating contrivance of Bin Laden and his ilk, from the scourge of human miseries in the unflat part of the world, from the ever-threatening curse of energy shortage, from preventable diseases and premature deaths...
Really, the world has come a long way since 11/9 and it should not be allowed to go back into the ice age merely because there has been a 9/11 !
China and India are the focal points, referred to throughout the book for right reasons: how the former has shaped itself as the great manufacturing hub and the latter the world's most industry-savvy service provider, an outsourcing paradise. It is an interesting conclusion that these two countries getting integrated into the supply chains in fact decided to avert wars. Fine, it is so when we think empirically. But then again, here Friedman is talking of two countries with different political systems, India with her democracy getting firmly rooted elections after elections and governments after government and China with her communism, or rather market socialism for whatever it means, and with its record of Tiananmen Square. What does Friedman intend to conclude? Is it that in flat world it does not matter whether the system is communist or democratic so long as it is perceived as a cheap place from the point of view of American business? It is a fact many books written in the subject just merrily gloss over. Well, we cannot just hold it against such a brilliantly written treatise.
There is another aspect that begs the critics' attention. Is Friedman subscribing to a theory of determinism despite his glorification of democracy, free trade and technological excellence in the field of IT? History shows that empires were built soon after sixth century BC when iron smelting was discovered, the metal that totally transformed the weaponry and military organisation. Similar is the case of Industrial Revolution on the wake of the discovery of steam engine. So, why shouldn't it be the case with the way we presently organise our socio-economic activities and political institutions with the establishment of fibre-optic trans-continental cables and satellites beaming bits and bytes over us 24 x 7 x 365? But then again, there is also Hegelian dialecticism-how thesis gives rise to antithesis and how the interplay of both the forces gives rise to synthesis. So when flat world creates a collaborative platform, supply chains, its unbridled use by the terrorists throw the necessary antithesis. What remains to be explained is the shape of synthesis to come. Friedman has not hinted anything about that; probably it is not his scheme to predict and prophesy. Now the book leaves much to think through and conclude. It is at best a book with the past well explained, the present well elaborated but the future simply glossed over.
A. N. Nanda
Labels: Book Review