Saturday, October 26, 2013

The World is Flat

“Columbus reported to his king and queen that the world was round, and he went down in history as the man who first made this discovery. I returned home and shared my discovery only with my wife, and only in a whisper.
‘Honey,’ I confided, ‘I think the world is flat.’” -- p.16

Through his report and analysis of trends in the global economy, business relations, and the new ways people communicate, Thomas Friedman’s The World is Flat reveals the events and gadgets that allowed the world to become “flat”—to become connected beyond political and social borders—and explains the consequences of the “leveling of the playing field” for communities, businesses, and individuals across the globe.

The most obvious impact on business is the rise of outsourcing. Friedman’s first flattening experience is with Jaithirth Rao, the head of an Indian accounting firm called MphasiS. MphasiS works for American accounting firms by doing the tax returns of clients’ files sent to them by American accountants, leaving the Americans more time to work more personally with their clients. The outsourcing is not limited to accounting; another Indian company, Infosys, serves as a call center for American companies, providing customer assistance. The World is Flat was written in 2005, but still, in 2013, the trend of outsourcing has no end in sight: a recent article from the online Indian business news source Siliconindia ( states that “India’s biggest outsourcing companies like TCS, Infosys, Wipro, HCL, as well as midsized companies like MindTree, Polaris, and Hexaware, are likely to get benefits from banks which are looking for cost effective banking technology.”  That I, a sixteen-year-old American girl, have access to a news source written for Indian professionals (and the site was originally a print magazine distributed in New York, at that) reflects the flattening of the world, sharing of information, and leveling of the field (me, with the same resources as business professionals!) that Friedman has discovered(Text-to-World, Text-to-Self).

Friedman acknowledges what was, at the time of his writing, a series of tools only widely used by business professionals and software developers: Web-based business tools. These early online services, such as, gave managers the tools to do finances, track requests, organize and manage customer information, and store files, so they could access their information and tools from anywhere with an internet connection. Any employee on any type of computer could use these programs and trust they could share information with their coworkers. The current leader in all online resources, Google, has fulfilled this need with Google Apps, their “cloud-based productivity suite that helps you and your team connect and get work done from anywhere on any device. It's simple to setup, use and manage, allowing you to work smarter and focus on what really matters (”. The demand is real, as their webpage proudly asks visitors to “Join the 5 million businesses using Google Apps,”  Every day, I use Google Apps For Education (a version of the suite that provides tools more useful to students) to collaborate with classmates on reports, keep track of memberships, and monitor progress.  With Google Apps, I can work as efficiently as the business professionals that contributed to Google’s five million (Text-to-World, Text-to-Self).

Though a flat world has many benefits, it can also cause problems, such as a sudden change in standards. In America, math and science education are not as challenging in the primary and secondary grades as in other countries, while they are not popular among Americans as a higher-education choice of study. As Eric Stern, a young man whom was studying biomedical engineering at Yale at the time, says, “People want to do stuff that is fun....[But] it’s not until you get to the senior level of advanced classes that you can start to have fun. But you need to have acquired all these fundamentals beforehand …and getting those fundamentals is not fun…The culture now is geared toward having fun” (pg. 324). The American habit of putting pleasure and happiness above discipline and practicality was also addressed in Jean M. Twenge’s Generation Me: “We want to make lots of money at a career that is fulfilling and makes us famous” (Twenge 2006, pg. 82). Twenge also comments that “when Asian students find out that they scored low on a particular task, they want to keep working on that task so they can improve their performance. American students, in contrast, prefer to give up on that task and work on another one” (p. 62). The American avoidance of work and pursuit of easy, fun tasks is the reason we have fallen behind in education. A Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study revealed that while “44 percent of eight-graders in Singapore scored at the most advanced level in math,… Only seven percent in the United States did” (p.323) (Text-to-text).

While describing the “globalization of the local” Friedman expresses a fear that has been held by the foreign TV moms (and dads) on American television for years: Americanization. “In the constant struggle between the homogenizing and particularizing forces of globalization, it seemed like the homogenizing-Americanizing forces were destined to triumph. Globalization would have an American face, an American look, and an American taste” (p.433). Because America is the front-runner when it comes to globalization, people fear that American trends will devour the traditions of other cultures. While the American influence is high, such as the Indian call-center workers from the beginning of the book adopting an American accent and name, what people are forgetting is that not everyone is becoming American, simply embracing America, just as the call-center workers are still in India, and “still eat curry…still wear saris, and… still live in tightly bound extended family units” (p.386). A podcast by Jean Henry of WSUF News addresses the concept of “Keeping Your Culture Stirring in the American Melting Pot.” He explains his experience from interviewing people at the Hillsborough County Public Schools Adult Education Department who were taking an English language class ( (Text-to-Itself, Text-to-Text).

Friedman summons a paradox when he tells the tale of a taxi ride in France: “throughout the ride, [The driver and I] had been doing six different things. He was driving, talking on his phone, and watching a movie. I was riding, working on my laptop, and listening to my iPod. There was only one thing we never did: talk to each other ” (pg. 469). Despite the connectivity brought by the flattening of the world, best represented by Indian call-centers providing text support for American clients, people are growing further and further apart. The higher amount of productivity made possible by technology leaves little time for chance occurrences and relationship building small-talk. Each of Friedman’s discoveries was attributed to planned meetings and tours. Despite the fun-loving nature of American youth, the world as a whole, including them, is becoming more business-like in function (Text-to-Itself).