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Online Study Guide: The World is Flat by Thomas L. Friedman

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How the World Became Flat: Chapters 1 - 4


Friedman concludes that the world is flat on a visit to Infosys Technologies Limited in India, where he travels with Discovery Times. Friedman is impressed by the campus’s advanced technology such as the glass-and-steel buildings and large flat-screen televisions. Nandan Nilekani, the company’s CEO, tells Friedman that the playing field has been leveled; now countries like India can compete for global knowledge. Friedman realizes that the world is flat, which fills him with both dread and excitement. Friedman believes there are historically three great eras of globalization. The first was from 1492-1800, which he calls Globalization 1.0; the second was from 1800-2000, which he calls Globalization 2.0. Friedman argues that we are now in the midst of Globalization 3.0 is a period in which the world shrinks from small to tiny, flattening to such a degree that individuals can collaborate and compete globally. Friedman tells the reader that the purpose of this book is to understand how the world became flat as well as the implications of that development. Friedman spends a night in an Indian call center. Twenty-five hundred twenty-somethings work in this multi-floor facility; some are “outbound” operators, selling various items, others are “inbound” operators, tending to the customer-service needs of various companies. Friedman notes that there are about 245,000 Indians working in this industry, which offers them high-paying, high-prestige jobs. Employees are trained how to speak with American, British, or Canadian accents. In India, Friedman visits various technology industries in India and is further convinced that the world is flat and that India is a key player in 21st century global economy. Friedman then visits Japan, where he learns that Dalian, a northeastern port city in China, has become for Japan what India is for the United States--“outsourcing central.” Friedman visits Dalian and sees first-hand, by talking with the mayor and reading the names on the buildings (GE, Sony, Microsoft, Dell, etc.), that the city is an example of how China is rapidly developing high-tech cities.

Friedman explores further. He talks with a woman in Salt Lake City who works for JetBlue airline from her home office. In Iraq, Friedman witnesses how the military has been “flattened” through the use of computer technology: low-level officers and enlisted men now have access to sensitive information and can make important decisions. Back home in Bethesda, Maryland Friedman continues to be shocked by world-flattening trends--in three states there are McDonald’s restaurants that take customers’ orders via a call center in Colorado; American students can be tutored by people in India through the Internet. In Washington D.C., where Friedman has an office, he learns the U.S. made a trade agreement with Oman by using a flat-screen television and that reporters writing for the Internet can use low-cost technology to reach a large, interactive audience.

In chapter two, Friedman argues that there are primarily ten forces that flattened the world. He describes each force. The first flattener is, 11/9/89, the fall of the Berlin Wall. Friedman argues that this event “flattened alternatives to free-market capitalism” and unlocked “pent-up energies of hundreds of millions of people in places like India, Brazil, China, and the former Soviet Empire” (53). Perhaps more importantly, the fall of the Berlin Wall allowed for the concept of the world as a single market, for the notion of global (not Eastern or Western) policy. After 11/9 (Friedman’s play on 9/11), knowledge could flow more freely, including economic policies.

The second flattener is 8/9/95, or the date that Netscape went public. Essentially Friedman describes two phases in Internet and World Wide Web technology, which he differentiates. The Internet (which connects computers) and the Web (which houses information) came together to connect people, globally. The first phase, “the Apple-PC-Windows phase” allowed individuals to interact with a contained network, such as a group of people sharing an office. The second phase, “the Internet-e-mail-browser phase” allowed anyone with this technology to interact with anyone else who had the same technology.

The third flattener is work flow software. Friedman describes the advent of work flow software as a quiet revolution that no one realized was happening; it became effective in the mid-1990s. Work flow software allowed more people to collaborate within and between businesses and continents, at a faster pace than ever before. For these separate entities to communicate they needed interoperable software; this became possible with the rise of standards. Web-standards such as XML, HTML, HTTP, and SOAP eliminated the “Tower of Babel” roadblock and allowed everyone to speak the same language.

The fourth flattener is uploading. Uploading allows individuals or communities to put information on the Web. The flat-world platform has allowed these individuals and communities to produce “really complex things” with much less hierarchy and money than before. Friedman explores three examples of uploading: community-developed software, wikipedia, and blogging/ podcasting. Friedman argues that uploading appeals to a basic human need to participate and be heard; thus, of the ten flatteners, uploading has the potential to be the most disruptive. Currently, the number of uploaders is relatively small. However, Friedman believes that as more people get positive feedback, uploading will grow faster and “every big institution or hierarchical structure will feel its effects.”

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The World is Flat by Thomas Friedman: Book Notes Summary

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