The World Is Flat
Original 1st edition cover
|Publisher||Farrar, Straus and Giroux|
|April 5, 2005|
|Media type||Print (Hardcover and Paperback) and audio-CD|
|LC Class||HM846 .F74 2005|
The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century is an international bestselling book by Thomas L. Friedman that analyzes globalization, primarily in the early 21st century. The title is a metaphor for viewing the world as a level playing field in terms of commerce, where all competitors have an equal opportunity. As the first edition cover illustration indicates, the title also alludes to the perceptual shift required for countries, companies, and individuals to remain competitive in a global market where historical and geographical divisions are becoming increasingly irrelevant.
Friedman himself is a strong advocate of these changes, calling himself a "free-trader" and a "compassionate flatist", and he criticizes societies that resist these changes. He emphasizes the inevitability of a rapid pace of change and the extent to which emerging abilities of individuals and developing countries are creating many pressures on businesses and individuals in the United States; he has special advice for Americans and for the developing world (but says almost nothing about Europe). Friedman's is a popular work based on much personal research, travel, conversation, and reflection. In his characteristic style, he combines in The World Is Flat conceptual analysis accessible to a broad public with personal anecdotes and opinions. The book was first released in 2005, was later released as an "updated and expanded" edition in 2006, and yet again released with additional updates in 2007 as "further updated and expanded: Release 3.0." The title was derived from a statement by Nandan Nilekani, the former CEO of Infosys. The World is Flat won the inaugural Financial Times and Goldman Sachs Business Book of the Year Award in 2005.
In his book, The World is Flat, Friedman recounts a journey to Bangalore, India, when he realized globalization has changed core economic concepts. In his opinion, this flattening is a product of a convergence of personal computer with fiber-optic micro cable with the rise of work flow software. He termed this period as Globalization 3.0, differentiating this period from the previous Globalization 1.0 (in which countries and governments were the main protagonists) and the Globalization 2.0 (in which multinational companies led the way in driving global integration).
Friedman recounts many examples of companies based in India and China that, by providing labor from typists and call center operators to accountants and computer programmers, have become integral parts of complex global supply chains for companies such as Dell, AOL, and Microsoft. Friedman's Dell Theory of Conflict Prevention is discussed in the book's penultimate chapter.
Friedman repeatedly uses lists as an organizational device to communicate key concepts, usually numbered, and often with a provocative label. Two example lists are the ten forces that flattened the world, and three points of convergence.
Friedman defines ten "flatteners" that he sees as leveling the global playing field:
- #1: Collapse of the Berlin Wall – 11/9/89: Friedman called the flattener, "When the walls came down, and the windows came up." The event not only symbolized the end of the Cold War, it allowed people from the other side of the wall to join the economic mainstream. "11/9/89" is a discussion about the Berlin Wall coming down, the "fall" of communism, and the impact that Windows powered PCs (personal computers) had on the ability of individuals to create their own content and connect to one another. At that point, the basic platform for the revolution to follow was created: IBM PC, Windows, a standardized graphical interface for word processing, dial-up modems, a standardized tool for communication, and a global phone network.
- #2: Netscape – 8/9/95: Netscape went public at the price of $28. Netscape and the Web broadened the audience for the Internet from its roots as a communications medium used primarily by "early adopters and geeks" to something that made the Internet accessible to everyone from five-year-olds to ninety-five-year-olds. The digitization that took place meant that everyday occurrences such as words, files, films, music, and pictures could be accessed and manipulated on a computer screen by all people across the world.
- #3: Workflow software: Friedman's catch-all for the standards and technologies that allowed work to flow. The ability of machines to talk to other machines with no humans involved, as stated by Friedman. Friedman believes these first three forces have become a "crude foundation of a whole new global platform for collaboration." There was an emergence of software protocols (SMTP – simple mail transfer protocol; HTML – the language that enabled anyone to design and publish documents that could be transmitted to and read on any computer anywhere) Standards on Standards. This is what Friedman called the "Genesis moment of the flat world." The net result "is that people can work with other people on more stuff than ever before." This created a global platform for multiple forms of collaboration. The next six flatteners sprung from this platform.
- #4: Uploading: Communities uploading and collaborating on online projects. Examples include open source software, blogs, and Wikipedia. Friedman considers the phenomenon "the most disruptive force of all."
- #5: Outsourcing: Friedman argues that outsourcing has allowed companies to split service and manufacturing activities into components which can be subcontracted and performed in the most efficient, cost-effective way. This process became easier with the mass distribution of fiber optic cables during the introduction of the World Wide Web.
- #6: Offshoring: The internal relocation of a company's manufacturing or other processes to a foreign land to take advantage of less costly operations there. China's entrance in the WTO (World Trade Organization) allowed for greater competition in the playing field. Now countries such as Malaysia, Mexico, Brazil must compete against China and each other to have businesses offshore to them.
- #7: Supply-chaining: Friedman compares the modern retail supply chain to a river, and points to Wal-Mart as the best example of a company using technology to streamline item sales, distribution, and shipping.
- #8: Insourcing: Friedman uses UPS as a prime example for insourcing, in which the company's employees perform services – beyond shipping – for another company. For example, UPS repairs Toshiba computers on behalf of Toshiba. The work is done at the UPS hub, by UPS employees.
- #9: Informing: Google and other search engines are the prime example. "Never before in the history of the planet have so many people – on their own – had the ability to find so much information about so many things and about so many other people," writes Friedman. The growth of search engines is tremendous; for example take Google, in which Friedman states that it is "now processing roughly one billion searches per day, up from 150 million just three years ago."
- #10: "The Steroids": Wireless, Voice over Internet, and file sharing. Personal digital devices like mobile phones, iPods, personal digital assistants, instant messaging, and voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP). Digital, Mobile, Personal and Virtual – all analog content and processes (from entertainment to photography to word processing) can be digitized and therefore shaped, manipulated and transmitted; virtual – these processes can be done at high speed with total ease; mobile – can be done anywhere, anytime by anyone; and personal – can be done by you.
Thomas Friedman believes that to fight the quiet crisis of a flattening world, the United States work force should keep updating its work skills. Making the work force more adaptable, Friedman argues, will keep it more employable. He also suggests that the government makes it easier to switch jobs by making retirement benefits and health insurance less dependent on one's employer and by providing insurance that would partly cover a possible drop in income when changing jobs. Friedman also believes there should be more inspiration for youth to be scientists, engineers, and mathematicians due to a decrease in the percentage of these professionals being American.
The World is Flat received generally positive popular and critical reception, and some negative criticism. As of November 2013, Amazon.com showed an average rating of four stars (on a five point scale) with 1,105 reviewers.
The Washington Post called the book an "engrossing tour" and an "enthralling read". The review closed with, "We've no real idea how the 21st century's history will unfold, but this terrifically stimulating book will certainly inspire readers to start thinking it all through".
An opposing viewpoint was found in a 2007 Foreign Policy magazine article, Harvard Business School where Professor Pankaj Ghemawat argued that 90% of the world's phone calls, Web traffic, and investments are local, suggesting that Friedman has grossly exaggerated the significance of the trends he describes: "Despite talk of a new, wired world where information, ideas, money, and people can move around the planet faster than ever before, just a fraction of what we consider globalization actually exists." Indian development journalist P. Sainath, Rural Affairs Editor for The Hindu, says "it's not the ‘world’ that is flat, but Thomas Friedman’s ‘brain’ is flat."
Some critics have pointed out that the book is written from an American perspective. Friedman's work history has been mostly with The New York Times, and this may have influenced the way in which the book was written – some would have preferred a book written in a more "inclusive voice".
Friedman is right that there have been dramatic changes in the global economy, in the global landscape; in some directions, the world is much flatter than it has ever been, with those in various parts of the world being more connected than they have ever been, but the world is not flat […] Not only is the world not flat: in many ways it has been getting less flat.
John Gray, formerly a School Professor of European Thought at the London School of Economics and Political Science, wrote another critical review of Friedman’s book called "The World is Round". In it, Gray confirms Friedman’s assertion that globalization is making the world more interconnected, and in some parts, richer, but disputes the notion that globalization makes the world more peaceful or free. Gray also declares, “least of all does it make it flat”.
Geographers on the whole have been particularly critical of Friedman's writings, views influenced by the large body of work within their field demonstrating the uneven nature of globalization, the strong influence place still has on peoples' lives, and the dependent relationships that have been established between the have and have-not regions in the current world-system. Geographer Harm de Blij has detailed these arguments for the general public in Why Geography Matters: Three Challenges Facing America (2005) and The Power of Place: Geography, Destiny, and Globalization's Rough Landscape (2008).
- The World is Flat (1st ed.). Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 2005. ISBN 0-374-29288-4. [The original jacket illustration, reproducing the painting I Told You So by Ed Miracle, depicting a sailing ship falling off the edge of the world, was changed during the print run due to copyright issues. These issues were settled in March, 2006.]
- The World is Flat (Audiobook ed.). Audio Renaissance. 2005. ISBN 1-59397-668-2.
- The World is Flat: Updated and Expanded (Release 2.0) (2nd ed.). Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 2006. ISBN 0-374-29279-5.
- The World is Flat: Further Updated and Expanded (Release 3.0) (2nd revised and expanded ed.). Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 2007. ISBN 0-374-29278-7.
- Warren Bass (April 3, 2005). "The Great Leveling". Washington Post. Retrieved 2007-09-06.
- "The Great Leveling". The Washington Post. 2005-04-03. Retrieved 2013-11-26.
- Pankaj Ghemawat (March/April 2007). "Why the World Isn't Flat" Foreignpolicy.com. (Subscription). Accessed 2008-04-03.
- Pankaj Ghemawat (March 2007). Why the world isn't flat. Foreign Policy. Accessed 2012-10-05.
- Peter Begley (2006). "The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century". Accessed 2006-11-06.
- Richard Florida (October 2005). "The world is spiky". Atlantic Monthly. Accessed 2009-05-09.
- Gray, John (2005). "The World is Round". The New York Review of Books (Trans. Array, Web ed.). pp. 1–9.
- Justin Fox (October 17, 2005). "A Painter Is Flat-Out Flimflammed". Fortune Magazine. Retrieved 2007-10-21.