“The World Is Flat” by Thomas Friedman

Born on 20 July 1975 in St. Louis Park, Minnesota, Thomas Friedman is an internationally acclaimed reporter, columnist, and author. Besides receiving three Pulitzer prizes, Friedman has also written six bestsellers, among them “The World is Flat” and “From Beirut to Jerusalem”. His is the only and youngest son to Harold and Margaret Friedman. Other siblings include two sisters older Jane and Shelley. However, the father died of a heart attack back in 1973 and Margaret in 2008. She had served in the U.S. Navy during the Second World War.

Growing up, Friedman had always wanted to be a professional golfer. His father was used to the idea of bringing him to the golf course almost every day after work. In 1970, he became the captain of his St. Louis Park High golf team when they took part in the U.S. Open at the Hazeltine National Golf Club. Nonetheless, he loved two other things while in high school: Journalism and the Middle East, from where he would develop his life. He loved everything about the Middle East after they had gone for a trip to Jerusalem with his parents back in 1968-9. On the other hand, he got his inspiration for newspapers and reporting from Hattie Steinberg, his high school teacher for journalism.

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Friedman finished High School in 1971 and proceeded to University of Minnesota and Brandeis University, from where he would graduate from four years later with a degree in Mediterranean studies. He also attended studies in other schools like Antony’s College, Oxford University, the American University, Cairo, and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He married Ann Bucksbaum in 1978 in London. Friedman spent about a year in London doing some reporter and editing work before transferring to Beirut in 1979 as a correspondent for UPI. He has two daughters Orly and Natalie. From here, he wrote his “From Beirut to Jerusalem Book” and other best sellers.

In the book, “The World is Flat”, Thomas Friedman writes about a journey he had taken to Bangalore in India, where he realized that globalization greatly changed the main economic ideas. He saw flattening as a product of the convergence of the computer together with fiber cable and workflow software. He named this period Globalization 3.0, which was different from Globalization 2.0 and Globalization 1.0 (Friedman, 54). He recounts numerous examples of businesses based in China and India, which have become crucial parts of the much complex international supply chains for huge corporations like Microsoft, AOL, and Dell by offering cheap labor for call center operators, typists, computer programmers, and accountants. He discusses the Dell Theory of Conflict Prevention in of the chapters in the book.

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Friedman discusses several flatteners that he thinks have leveled the international playing field. The first is the collapse of the Berlin Wall. The event meant the end of the Cold War as the East and West were reunited once more both socially and economically. The second fattener is Netscape, which went public at $28. This company broadened the Internet’s audience to the rest of the world. The digitization process allowed for the sharing of music, movies, pictures, and words amongst other things. The third flattener, the Workflow software, allowed work to flow fluently. As he describes, machines could communicate with other machines without a human being involvement. Friedman also compares the Fourth Flattener, Supply-chaining, to a river. In his example, Wal-Mart has used technology to streamline the sales, distribution and shipping of item sales. In discussing another flattener, Outsourcing, Friedman views that the idea has made it easy for companies and institutions to split manufacturing and service activities into distinct components that can be performed or subcontracted in a cost-effective and efficient manner. Other instances of flattening that Friedman discusses include The Steroids, Informing, Insourcing, Supply-chaining, and Offshoring.

The book was received with mixed feelings. Some have applauded the book’s writing while others have disagreed with the contents of the book. For instance, Pankaj Ghemawat, a Harvard Business School Professor lamented that the book was written from only one perspective: an American perspective (Ghemawat, 43). According to Ghemawat, a big percentage of Web traffic, phone calls, and investments are locally done; therefore, Friedman had gone overboard in his description of the trends in his book. Another journalist, P. Sainath, states that its Friedman’s brain that appears to be flat and not the world in a bit. Joseph Stiglitz, a renowned economist agrees with the idea that many things have changed in regards to the world economy. He concurs with the notion that the world has become flat in some direction; however, the world has never been flat. He argues that the world has ceased to be flat in a number of ways. Others who have criticized this book include Matt Taibbi, who wrote a review in the New York Press that Friedman’s book is a very boring literary piece of work (Taibbi, 23). Richard Florida, in “The World is Spiky” article, also disagrees with the idea that the world has become flat.

Nonetheless, others have welcomed the book terming it as brilliant and insightful. A column in the New York Times views that Friedman has been exemplary in his tackling of complex economy and foreign policy issues that have happened in this 21st century. Consequently, individuals, communities, societies, countries, governments, and companies have to adapt to the new wave of change. In another review, a columnist states that Friedman has succeeded in making people see the world in a new perspective. The book has been taken as a critical update about the effects of globalization, the opportunities it has presented to the empowerment of the individual, its achievement in alleviating poverty, as well as, its impacts on the social, environmental and political scene.

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In my view, the book is an interesting read because it tries to explain the “flatteners” in detail. I also agree with some critics, but disagree with others who seem to be harsh and criticizing just for the sake. It is true that a lot has changed in this century when compared to the last two. A lot of globalization has taken place, and national boarders are increasingly becoming open in some sense. Companies like Wal-Mart, Coca cola, McDonald’s, Starbucks, amongst many others have taken their businesses and operations to other places outside the United States. In this view, the world has become flattened.

The critics, in my view, take issues with the book’s heading: “The World is Flat”. Most of them argue that the world has never been flat, and therefore, Friedman has overemphasized on the idea. Truly, the world is not flat per se. Additionally, there are still a number of issues that have not made the world entirely free. There are still a few countries that have closed their boarders in the sense of cultural, economic, and social aspects. My view concurs with the idea that a lot has changed. No critic should deny that fact. This contemporary era is definitely very different from the last century. The digital technology has swiftly exploded and changed the way things are run. I believe that Friedman has used the title “The World is Flat” metaphorically, therefore, critics should not take the header in literal terms.

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