The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-first Century

The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-first Century by Thomas L. Friedman (2005)

Reading this book in the year 2017, some 12 years after its publication puts some of Friedman's predictions, or hyperbole quickly into context. For example, in the latter third of the book Friedman relates an anecdote regarding his confusion as to why cell phones were banned from the locker rooms of a nearby gym. In the smatphone-laden decade that has elapsed since the book's publication, it's almost immediately obvious that the photo/video capabilites of modern phones would be a privacy problem. In the recently "flattened" world of the early 21st century, this was a new concept.

Anecdotes are used frequently as a vehicle for introducing Friedman's idea of what the flattened planet is, how it happened, and what it might mean for the future. I've read some critiques that are hard on Friedman for spending a lot of time discussing China and India, but frankly isn't that all we heard about in the first few years after the millenium? While expectations about their economic prowess and interconnectedness with the developed world (India in particular) have tempered in the last decade, Friedman's core arguments and expectations are in my mind still quite relevant.

Although Friedman claims not to be a Luddite, he does come off at times sounding like an elderly realtive who wants to excitedly tell you about discovering YouTube or some other Interent age development that you've known about for years. Again, this may be the consequence of reading this book 12 years after it was published; perhaps a lot of the ideas that Friedman discusses were truly new at that time. 2005 was after all a pre-iPhone era.

Friedman's take on outsourcing of jobs is interesting and provides some food for thought. While often seen as a malady to the American worker, Friedman claims that exporting call center jobs and the like overseas provide an opportunity for more thought and innovation type jobs to develop back in the States. However, this assumes that the United States can supply the talent for these new opportunities. While the workers in the developing world may be happy wuth the call center job today, their children will not and America will need to rise to the challenge. The past has shown that the United States has performed best when it is challenged, but Friedman asks if the educational system in place can train Americans to meet that challenge. Many readers may likely agree with me that as a nation we are not meeting that challenge.