World is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century

Published 07 Sep 2017

“Individuals from every corner of the flat world are being empowered…you are going to see every color of the human rainbow take part” (Friedman11). This is how writer Thomas Friedman says in his international bestselling book The World is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century. First published in 2005, the book tackles one of the most realistic phenomena this age has experienced: globalization. In his travels as a journalist, Friedman, a three-time Pulitzer winner, became aware of the connections not just of individuals but of organizations, governments around the globe, before concluding that the world is flat as opposed to what Christopher Columbus previously reported to the monarchy (5).

Friedman believes that there are three eras of flattening with the first one occurring when Columbus first voyaged until about 1800 (Friedman 9). Globalization 1.0 was about competition among nations, leveraging on strength and how a country can influence the rest (9). Then came Globalization 2.0, which continued until 2000 (9). This era was defined by multinational companies which further made the globe smaller by global expansion and integration (9). It was a time fuelled by the industrial and transport revolution, advancing growth and development- “the telegraph, telephones, PCs, satellites, fiber-optic scale and the early version of the World Wide Web” (9). It also ushered in a global economy. But it is globalization 3.0 that has made the world flat. Unlike Globalizations 1.0 and 2.0 which were monopolized by a few individuals, mainly Americans and Europeans, Globalization 3.0 focused on individuals or as Friedman puts it, “empowerment of individuals” (11).

Friedman attributes this flattening to ten forces, namely: 1.The collapse of the Berlin Wall- opening the world to democracy; 2. Entrance of Netscape- allowing people to browse the Internet publicly; 3. Workflow software- use of machines to do work; 4. Open-sourcing- people collaborating online for projects; 5. Outsourcing- subcontracting cheaper like (e.g. India) to do certain workflow; 6. Offshoring- moving a company’s internal processes to somewhere cheaper; 7.Supply-chaining- collaboration between suppliers, customers and retailers for value creation and streamlining (e.g. Wal-Mart’s logistics); 8. In sourcing- company providing service to another company, sort of like in-house consultancy (.e.g. UPS mending Toshiba computers); 9. In-forming –presence of search engines like Google; and; 10. Presence of steroids- tools that facilitate technology such as mobile phones, PDAs, et al (48-367). These flatteners have been responsible for transforming the world into what it is now, a levelled ground where anyone can play.

Friedman’s idea of flatness is absorbing. His narratives tie up everything he is trying to impart to the readers. There are parts when he tackles the American education in regards to facing globalization such as the drop of citizens specializing in science and technology (Friedman 257). This gap is frightening considering how the world now is shaped by technology. What is interesting though is how foreigners living in the country have helped America’s science force buoyed (259). This exactly embodies the flatness the world is now. The World is Flat is an interesting read for those wanting to dive more into the issue of globalization. It serves as an eye-opener on how globalization could affect our lives is we do not know how to respond to it.

There are times when he jabs at the Bush administration, but in spite of that, the book is engaging to read. He is right to say that the global landscape has changed, largely thanks to technology and globalization. He is also right to say that the American education is lagging and that may cause the country to tumble as we go through the globalization era. Some may argue that Friedman has exaggerated the role of globalization in today’s economy, especially among Americans but it only serves as a warning, an advice that if we don’t get our acts together, the very same thread that pushes people together may very well be the strand that divides us. As Friedman ends his book, “The world is flattened. I didn’t start it and you can’t stop it, except at a great cost to human development and your own future. But we can manage it, for better or for worse… You can flourish in this flat world, but it takes the right imagination and the right motivation” (469). Let us ensure, as individuals of every color, manage it for better not just for our sake but for the next generation, as well.

Work Cited

  • Friedman, Thomas. The World is Flat: A Brief history of the Twenty-First Century. USA: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2005.
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