In his book, The World is Flat, Thomas Friedman analyzes how innovation and new technologies, among other factors are “flattening” the world, making interaction and trade between nations more convenient and efficient, making some nations, like China and India more competitive, and revolutionizing the global market. Friedman discusses many complex factors that are, in many ways, interacting with each other to drive further the globalization of what were once more independent national markets, connecting people, groups, and corporations to those far away in different parts of the world. To his credit, Friedman explains these complex factors in play in the creation and transformation of the global market in a well-organized and clear way. I agree with Friedman’s argument that globalization is growing as a phenomenon, shrinking the world and making citizens of every nation more connected than ever before. However, he may be exaggerating its effect on the global economy while underestimating other factors. While I agree that globalization will continue in to have a major impact in many ways, I see some ways in which his argument can be improved.
Thomas Friedman’s main argument is that certain factors have contributed to what he refers to as the “flattening” of the world, interconnectedness of people, groups, and corporations in different parts of the world. He describes 10 factors responsible for the shrinking and flattening of the world.
First, is the fall of the Berlin Wall, which liberated parts of the world that were once isolated like China and India, made the once independent nations to see themselves as part of a global market, and allowed billions of people in those countries to become players in that global market. With this came also the rise of Windows PCs, which united the world in a whole new way, revolutionizing the global market, as this new technology allowed people to connect with people in other nations through the innovations of internet and email.
The next phase of this flattening came about with Netscape. Netscape gave people the first internet browser with which to surf the internet, making it available to everyone. With Netscape, came strong demand for software and networks so people could share pictures, videos, data, and music on the internet. Soon, Windows 95 was created with built in internet support. These two technological innovations used each other to become mainstream and popular and their popularity even more so interconnected the world through the World Wide Web.
The next factor in the world’s flattening was software that allowed machines to talk to each other which improved workflow. More people were allowed to share and work on projects than ever before. While this process took many years and a lot of determination and brainpower, this improvement of workflow on a global scale made the fourth factor, outsourcing, possible. The interconnected global market created a global workforce and, as it has always been, any job will go to the most qualified, most skilled, most experienced, or the cheapest. He also mentions that shared standards is a huge flattener, using Microsoft Word and Paypal as examples. He mentions using a German version of Word to write a book and, after becoming used to the format of Word, he was able to navigate his way through the toolbars and menus despite not knowing the German language the words were in. The interconnectivity that created these shared standards enabled outsourcing and also enabled another flattener, offshoring. Offshoring is the relocation of a business to another country where means of production may be better, cheaper, or both. Outsourcing and offshoring made more people adopt shared standards which also made open source projects like Wikipedia possible and easier, further contributing to the flattening of the world. Supply-chains like Wal-Mart are also a flattener. As they communicate with businesses that sell a product, offering to make the product more accessible to customers and add value, they also force these businesses to adopt shared standards.
Insourcing, of which Friedman cites UPS as the best example, is a synchronizing of global supply chains through logistics, which Friedman calls the tightening of weak links in the interconnected global economy. He claims that with all of the collaboration between many supply chains around the world, if not UPS or FedEx, someone would have had to take the role of packaging and delivering the products being demanded.
The ninth flattener is in-forming, which he cites Google as the most well-known example of. Never before has all of the information known to all of humankind been so easily accessible to each individual, from the most world renown scientist to my grandma. Any information we want to find is available at just the hit of a few keys on a keyboard.
The last flattener he describes he refers to as “the steroids.”They are the “mobile, digital, personal, and virtual” technologies that are “amplifying and turbocharging” the other flatteners, like smartphones for example. Today just about everyone has a smartphone and can connect to the World Wide Web from absolutely anywhere, even while on the go.
Friedman also describes 3 eras of globalization. Globalization 1.0 which started in 1492 when the “Old World” started trading with the “New World” and lasted until about 1800. During Globalization 1.0, nations were the primary players. Globalization 2.0 lasted from 1800 to 2000, though it was interrupted by two World Wars. Its primary players were the growing multinational companies. Globalization 3.0 started in 2000, continuing to this day, and includes the interconnecting of nations and what Friedman calls the “shrinking and flattening of the world.”
Thomas Friedman describes globalization and its factors in the first part of his book and later goes on to explain what America needs to do to stay competitive in a more globalized market, explicitly telling American workers to get a job that they are passionate about, because those are the jobs that won’t be replaced by machines. He tells the reader this, not as a feel good message but as a survival strategy in the ever-changing, ever-evolving global market. He mentions that the change of model in the global market from vertical, which he describes as “command and control,” to a more collaborative, horizontal model will change not only how business is done, but everything else, claiming that political identities will change in the aftermath of globalization, a period he calls, “the Great Sorting Out.” Here, he may be overstating its impact.
However, I do see his point to an extent when he brings up the Dell theory of conflict prevention. Basically, if one nation is collaborating with another nation economically, they are less likely to go to war. As Friedman explains, “The Dell Theory stipulates: No two countries that are both part of a major global supply chain, like Dell’s, will ever fight a war against each other as long as they are both part of the same global supply chain.” He cites many examples like China and Taiwan. Economic prosperity through political partnership can certainly be a major deterrent to violent conflict between two nations. However, I don’t think that globalization will be an avenue for absolute peace; just peace between nations. I think it will give rise to a different type of war between entities that have no nation-state and thus no allegiance to one, as we have seen recently with the rise of terrorist groups like ISIS.
While I see Friedman’s point that new innovations and new technologies are making the world more interconnected than ever before, I think describing the world as “flat” as he does underestimates geography’s impact on global economics. Geography can play a big part in who gets to benefit from the effects of globalization. There is a massive difference between America and developing countries like Syria, for example, which is likely to continue for many years despite technological advances. Some countries do not have access to these technologies nor can it be afforded. Some countries have oppressive regimes that restrict access to the technologies responsible for globalization. Also, everyone who is born becomes a product of the culture they were born into. Culture can play a large part in a person’s choice of (or being forced into) profession, education, learned skill set, and ultimately who they will become in life. So, I think in this way, Friedman overestimates the force of globalization and at the same time underestimates the impact of geographical location and culture.
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