How the Internet accelerates globalization
D. Reilly, Jr.
For the Sunday Gazette
The cease-fire [that ended the India-Pakistan nuclear crisis of 2002] was brought to us not by General Powell but by General Electric. We bring good things to life.
—Thomas Friedman, in “The World is Flat”
It’s fun to read
Molly Ivins. I
enjoy George Will too because of his exquisite English and because he
is the de
facto president of the American Society for the Abolition of the
Hitter. But each leans so predictably left or right that they don’t
think as hard as I should. In that pursuit, my favorite is three-time
Pulitzer-prize winner Thomas Friedman.
Since I read him
thoroughly enjoyed his first book on globalization The Lexus and the Olive
Tree, I was surprised that I didn’t learn that he had written a
sequel called The World is Flat
until I saw it at a local book store. If only Fox News
hadn’t turned “fair and balanced” into Newspeak, I would certainly
apply it to
knows that geophysically, the Earth is spheroidal, not flat—or as Will
say more precisely, “pyriformal.” Where Friedman uses “flat,” he means
as in an economically level playing field. I didn’t buy the book when I
saw it, but it magically appeared the next day, a birthday present from
Peter who knew I liked Friedman’s columns. And that night, while
channel 13 down to 10 to catch Nightline at 10:35, who do I see talking
Charlie Rose on 11 but Tom Friedman!
subject, of course, was his new book. I have seen Friedman on the tube
but never so hyper. He said that while concentrating on the Middle East
9/11, he had been asleep to certain developments since 11/9. That is,
9, 1995, the day the Berlin Wall came down and tipped the balance to a
significance of the wordplay that Friedman used in the opening quote is
GE’s second largest research center (to our own GE Global Research
Niskayuna) is in Bangalore, India, and Dell, IBM, and many other large
corporations have significant backroom accounting and computer
operations there. Since there were similar concerns about Pakistan, the
countries settled their differences, at least for the time being.
China and Taiwan share parts of the same easily disrupted Dell supply
there now seems to be a significant lessening of tensions between them.
globalization epiphany stems from 20 of
the 60 Minutes of April 24 during which Bill Simon of CBS took
viewers on a tour of two luxurious hospitals, one in Thailand and one
Through marbled halls more characteristic of a five-star hotel than a
come tens of thousands of patients per year, all treated with TLC by
of RNs—no orderlies—and skilled Asian doctors trained in the United
suppose an American without health insurance needs a quintuple bypass
other comparably complex operation that would cost, say, $50,000 here.
he cannot raise that sum, but does have assets of $25,000. So he buys a
round-trip plane ticket to Asia, checks into a spacious private room in
hospital, and undergoes the operation for $13,000, room and board
few days later, the operand is back home, good as new, and still has
left in the bank.
makes 11/9 just the first of ten significant developments which led him
conclude that the world is now flat, that is, that smart people in
countries can now compete with Europe and the United States in the use
Information Technology (IT). Anything that can be digitized can be sent
to the most distant point in the world. The information can be software
for implementation by teams of Indians, Chinese, or Thais who will work
hours a day, 24/7 if necessary, and at a fraction of the wages
Americans. Or the information might be a digitized x-ray to be
data needed for completing a complex tax return. So long as each is
accurately, patients or clients need never know whether the processing
by their own doctor or by H&R Block or whomever.
Friedman’s other ten points also concern IT: 8/9/95: the day Netscape
public and the World Wide Web (WWW) burst on the scene; “work-flow
which integrates the sequence of steps that cooperating international
need to produce a final product.; and the rise of “open-source
meaning that no longer must users be beholden to commercial companies
provision of expensive software. There is now a “freeware” version of
about every major Microsoft product, software written by cooperating
altruistic programmers from all over the world. Bill Gates has got to
In my own
book “Milestones of Computer Science and Information Technology”
Greenwood Press in 2003, I agree that the four IT points highlighted by
Friedman are very significant, along with 650 other IT milestones. The
that I consider most historically significant are the concept of the
Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press, television, and the
it is the last of these that is flattening and democratizing the world.
Not all critics
liked The World is
Flat. In his review in the Washington
Post, Warren Bass wrote that Friedman
“has a maddening inability to take himself out of the frame.” I noticed
of this while watching the interview with Rose. Friedman said that
Bush has three and a half years to go in his term and could still be a
only he would read my book.”
Someone is reading the book, however. The last time I checked Amazon.com, its sales rank among all books was 2. Mine was a tad behind at 971,506. Perhaps I can get Amazon to offer both as a package deal.
Edwin D. Reilly, Jr. lives in Niskayuna and is a regular contributor to the Sunday Gazette opinion page.