Saturday, March 03, 2007

Maybe the world isn't as flat as we were told.

Thomas Friedman has been lauded for his most recent book, The World is Flat. It focuses on his personal realization that the economic playing field has been leveled by the advances and spreading of technology globally.

Many applaud and support his contentions and evaluation.

Here is a counterargument.

From the

Why the World Isn’t Flat
by Pankaj Ghemawat

Globalization has bound people, countries, and markets closer than ever, rendering national borders relics of a bygone era—or so we’re told. But a close look at the data reveals a world that’s just a fraction as integrated as the one we thought we knew. In fact, more than 90 percent of all phone calls, Web traffic, and investment is local. What’s more, even this small level of globalization could still slip away.

Ideas will spread faster, leaping borders. Poor countries will have immediate access to information that was once restricted to the industrial world and traveled only slowly, if at all, beyond it. Entire electorates will learn things that once only a few bureaucrats knew. Small companies will offer services that previously only giants could provide. In all these ways, the communications revolution is profoundly democratic and liberating, leveling the imbalance between large and small, rich and poor.” The global vision that Frances Cairncross predicted in her Death of Distance appears to be upon us. We seem to live in a world that is no longer a collection of isolated, “local” nations, effectively separated by high tariff walls, poor communications networks, and mutual suspicion. It’s a world that, if you believe the most prominent proponents of globalization, is increasingly wired, informed, and,
well, “flat.”

It’s an attractive idea. And if publishing trends are any indication, globalization is more than just a powerful economic and political transformation; it’s a booming cottage industry. According to the U.S. Library of Congress’s catalog, in the 1990s, about 500 books were published on globalization. Between 2000 and 2004, there were more than 4,000. In fact, between the mid-1990s and 2003, the rate of increase in globalization-related titles more than doubled every 18 months.

Amid all this clutter, several books on the subject have managed to attract significant attention. During a recent TV interview, the first question I was asked—quite earnestly—was why I still thought the world was round. The interviewer was referring of course to the thesis of New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman’s bestselling book The World Is Flat. Friedman asserts that 10 forces—most of which enable connectivity and collaboration at a distance—are “flattening” the Earth and leveling a playing field of global competitiveness, the likes of which the world has never before seen.

It sounds compelling enough. But Friedman’s assertions are simply the latest in a series of exaggerated visions that also include the “end of history” and the “convergence of tastes.” Some writers in this vein view globalization as a good thing—an escape from the ancient tribal rifts that have divided humans, or an opportunity to sell the same thing to everyone on Earth. Others lament its cancerous spread, a process at the end of which everyone will be eating the same fast food. Their arguments are mostly characterized by emotional rather than cerebral appeals, a reliance on prophecy, semiotic arousal (that is, treating everything as a sign), a focus on technology as the driver of change, an emphasis on education that creates “new” people, and perhaps above all, a clamor for attention. But they all have one thing in common: They’re wrong.


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