After reading Thomas Friedman's The World Is Flat, I felt a sense of wonder and duty. Wonder, in the sense that the world is truly an amazingly connected place with endless possibility. Realizing that we are only at the beginning of this age, wow, I was eagerly awaiting the next technological breakthrough. I started thinking about how our privileged lives have such quick and easy access to information, that I felt a sense of duty to make good use of it.
More than just responsibility, however, it is now imperative to take advantage of information in order to succeed. The world is in a much more competitive landscape, where the people who can adapt to and understand information the fastest will be the most successful. Essentially, a meritocratic society where the best idea, innovation, or what-have-you wins. The book gave a realistic, but positive message.
What is not in the book, and what I think the world is realizing, is the forces of globalization can be both beneficial and detrimental. I'm not talking about outsourcing or "races to the bottom," because I consider those to be mostly zero sum games that balance a company or country's economic equations every once in a while. I'm talking about the global economic meltdown we are ALL experiencing right now.
But before we get into that, let's start with some pop culture. With the Internet today, celebrity gossip has never been so easy to access with sites like perezhilton feeding their insatiable audiences. But take a look at the spotlight and we see the nightmare it can be for celebrities to go out, fearing any slight misstep is a potential public relations disaster (i.e. Michael Phelps). You are probably thinking who cares, these celebrities are loaded and can afford to be the centers of attention that they are, plus they've been dealing with the paparazzi for ages. OK, fine, so let's take it a step up.
How much cumulative human time has been wasted by people updating their computers with the latest security patch? How about the time you had to cancel your credit card because some computer hacker living half-way across the world managed to steal information from a data center on the other half of the world? What about the time you lost waiting on hold to speak to a company representative? Minor inconveniences? Maybe, but what happens when these inconveniences turn into catastrophes?
These include global warming, global terrorist cell networks, disease epidemics, and...oh yeah, the current global economic crisis!
There is no better example than the current financial collapse to show the dangers of globalization. First off, it would not have been possible to organically grow a sub-prime mortgage lending business without a flat world. After a couple of loan defaults and foreclosures, no one would be willing to buy these "toxic assets" from you. The furthest you could get would be a state or two before you went bankrupt. Instead, you have multinational corporations working together in parallel to make this happen across the entire United States. Containment is no longer an option, as the financial industry's global reach is quite literal; even islands, like Iceland, have been deeply impacted. Time is not on your side, as fear and irrationality have spread through the markets like wildfire. The government must operate in a non-bureaucratic fashion in order to keep pace with the crisis, which can lead to impulsive decisions, as eloquently described by Senator Kucinich:
In the mean time, innocent people are being adversely affected by losing their savings, jobs, and homes.
In my opinion, globalization acts more like an amplifier than an equalizer. A positive feedback mechanism that can be wonderful or terrible; although, recovery time seems to be inversely proportional to the speed of communication (i.e. it's always faster to kick a sand castle than build one). We live in a world that is being steamrolled into a level playing field, one which offers ample opportunity, but is also more susceptible to global dangers. I hope we can survive this transformation, painful as it may be, and bounce back to greater prosperity than ever before.