Saturday, January 26, 2008

THE WORLD IS FLAT: Review

World-Leveling: The Boon and Beyond
Reviewed by Sudipa Sarkar


THE WORLD IS FLAT: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century
By Thomas L. Friedman
488 pp. Farrar, Straus & Giroux $27.50


The World is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century composed by Thomas L. Friedman is one of the best-selling books which analyzes the progress of globalization with a special emphasis on 21st century. In 2005, it was first published whereas in 2006, it was re-published as “updated and expanded” edition. The World is Flat is basically portrays the research work done by Friedman during his visit in Bangalore and China, which is characterized by his own personal style of treatment along with the experiences he gathered during his visit, which personifies his complex ideas and theoretical analysis of flattening of the world in a metaphorical form.

Being a three-time winner of Pulitzer Prize, American journalist, columnist and author Thomas L. Friedman presents a critical but tormenting view at the future in his book ‘The World is Flat’. Here Friedman focuses on how the developing countries from around the world are able to create much more pressure by virtue of low wage market on business and individual of the United States due to modern globalization (globalization 3.0), in which the main forcing agents are individuals who are constantly influencing the accelerated changes through interconnecting new technologies and social decorum, such as cell phones, Internet and software, which inevitably make them “next-door neighbors” 2 and eventually resulting in a flat-world, in a metaphoric but with true implication, where individuals are learning to collaborate to stay in the system or just wipe out from it.

In his book, he specifically mentioned 10 forcing factors that work into the flattening of the world, like, Berlin Wall to open up free-markets, publicize of Netscape, development of “work flow software” 3, open-sourcing, out-sourcing, off-shoring, supply-chaining, in-sourcing, in-forming and combination of digital as well as electronic technologies (author named it ‘steroids’) and analyzed their roles in interrelation with the flattening in the shed of both boon and disadvantage too. On the one hand, he emphasizes the essentiality of the flat world and its inexorably non-disposable form by creating “a flat world: a global, web-enabled platform for multiple forms of sharing knowledge and work, irrespective of time, distance, geography and increasingly, language” 4, which practically materializes three economies, namely, India, China and former Soviet Union. But on the other hand, he also stressed on the fact of final convergence which will resolve the fate of U.S.A in long run, focusing attention towards the inherent dangers in a “warp-speed” 5 system structures accessible by terrorists as well as international competition faced by U.S labour force which can lead to a devastating consequence, in particular.

While analyzing the factors responsible for flattening the world and their both positive and negative influence over the world economy and world politics, Thomas L. Friedman did not draw any concrete conclusion about the outcome or consequences of this inevitable continuum of development, but in essence, he did continue his journey with an analytical anticipation of their future role in global market by pointing out ''institutions, habits, cultures, and traditions that people cherish precisely because they reflect non-market values like social cohesion, religious faith, and national pride" 6 as a result of expansion of hindrance to frictionless global market, and need to be resolved as intellectual property patent, global authority, wage market, human rights, changing political coalition, and more need to be coherent and resolved.

The metaphor of the ‘Flat World’, according to Friedman, is the one upcoming trend which will rule the global economy as well as global policy and thus, bring result in changing at base level affecting individual, company policy as well as country in a societal framework. Friedman pointed out the new technological forces like dot-com bubble to e-commerce availability that brings the world under one shade. As a result, without any barrier resulting an equal global opportunity for collaborating or competing from any area of the world. Friedman looks on the boon of the modern globalization in the array of advancement of global economy, which not just picking up the issue of threat towards the future of young Americans comparing the huge wage difference between home-labour and outsource labour, but enthusiastically and critically identifies the opportunities thereafter, by creating new global consumer as a result of uplift in net earning. Friedman also emphasized on the fact of inevitability of these forces working on the global economy, though suggesting more specialized and superior value-added services to move up more.

The treatment of his writing is many ways attracts the readers of his book. His stunning but simple quote in first-person view will indeed take its reader with it along the journey. It seems like the reader himself is present in each and every moment as Friedman interacts into a situation, which makes it easier to grasp the complexities of concept in several cases. Although Friedman’s composition is somehow not free from intellectual complexities whatsoever and is intermingled with lots of complicated extras on its way of describing a single factor of discussion, which sometimes make the reader confuse to come into a unique conclusion. But the best essence that a reader may have throughout his book is that despite of globalization calamities, like terrorism and labour threat for new economies, Friedman always put his pen with optimistic outlook in parallel by searching out and defining new solutions for developing specialized and exclusive products to sustain in the modern era of low wage market without any pessimistic discouragement for young generations in America. And here lies the success of this book which draws a significant borderline while comparing to the contemporaries.

Truly the book claimed its dealing of brilliance by emphasizing the fact of Friedman’s analysis of flattening-world theory, its development, impact on modern globalization in the light of its essentiality and meaning to individuals, communities, societies, countries and how they can interact into the system to its extent influencing the global system as a whole. And nonetheless to mention, the book comes very handy in order to identify the impact of globalization 3.0 using a thorough analysis on the basis of economics, politics and sociological changes. But Friedman, being a theorist of Flat-world, sometimes himself contradicted with the concept of flattening. It seems that he is also lacking while analyzing the fundamental societal force in the context of transformation through technological advancement, he didn’t put much attention on the distinction among qualitative factors and quantitative ones, which provides insufficient information about the changes or precisely the changing factors which influence the social, economical and political power in both national and international level. He also stressed on the threats of the theory of flatness of the world – when the topic specially deals with terrorists and discontented factors as Friedman defined them “Islamo-Leninists” which eventually bring criticism on his era by the living-examples of disarray in Iraq as a consequence of modernization of technology and the outcome of single-ended globalization.

It seems that the book lessens its value when Friedman deals international policies with the help of biased views and inadequate statistical data, which is evident by his interaction with elite class individual during his visit in this third world countries, and not taking any direct report from any of those layman of the country who cover the majority of the population of the country and the non-acknowledgement of ratio of poverty and illiteracy in India and China, eventually away from so-called globalization. Also, Friedman showed a great deal of predisposition in his ideas of defining ‘culture’ in more obsessive pattern but not in realistic frame. On establishing his theory of being wiped out if not being into the wave, his stress on culture seems casual in most of the cases, by focusing alone on the Islamic population without getting much into the depth to find out the cause behind of it.

As no one knows what future may bring to us in time, what will be written in the history of 21st century in upcoming centuries, though the book contains analysis both in neutral and pre-occupied form, but The World is Flat must inspire the readers to think about it all through with the help of analytical eyes and thoughtful logic by focusing on what globalization may offer without regard to geographical distance as such in this upcoming time frame.
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