Prof. Manit Mishra Assistant Professor IMI Bhubaneswar
Title: The World is Flat Sub-title: The Globalized World in the Twenty-First Century Author: Thomas L. Friedman Publisher: Penguin Books, London, England Year of Publication: 2006
Distinct or extinct. You either stand out or you are a road kill on the information highway. -Tom Peters
The book is an enchanting portrayal of what has come to become an eternal truth – The world is flat. An honest introspective insight with retrospective effect amalgamates with an earthy sense of humour to portray a vivid picture of the paradigm shift that has engulfed the world in last 15 years. It provides a plethora of anecdotes to substantiate the notion that flattening of the world is an anathema to the status-quoists but an antidote for the go-getters. The author uses a chronological approach to introduce the ten forces responsible for the predicament. Subtlety is on display as the author takes the reader through the ten flatteners which transpired around us and transformed the world around us. The author then goes on to compel the reader into thinking by presenting a kaleidoscope of contrasts regarding issues related to outcomes of the flattening process, e.g. flight of white-collar jobs from USA to India, to turn the conventional thought process upside down. The book is an epitome of double movement of reflective thought – on one hand, the facts (the ten forces that flattened the world) support the conclusion (the world is flat) and the conclusion explains the facts; while on the other hand, the conclusion leads you to deduce the facts. This exercise in circular reasoning skims out such gems as ‘America and the Flat World,’ ‘Developing Countries and the Flat World,’ ‘Companies and the Flat World,’ ‘You and the Flat World,’ and ‘Geopolitics and the Flat World’ in the form of different thought provoking chapters. In a 360o assessment of the scenario, the author narrates the impact of the flattening process on the Davids (e.g. Aramex) as well as the Goliaths (e.g. IBM) of the industry. The author’s grasp over myriad subjects and his comprehension of issues beyond the obvious, and definitely alien to an American, puts him into a different pedestal altogether by virtue of his thinking prowess. The description of the ten flatteners in a chronological order is synonymous to lifting of ten curtains in a sequential order on a stage show before the audience – each revealing an insightful way of perceiving an event, innovation or object generally overlooked as mundane by lesser souls. Indeed, it makes one wonder that while our generation (those born in the 1970s and 80s) was growing up, oblivious to the happenings around us, there was so much of effort going on around the world to bring to life the giant called Internet. By the time we grew up and had a sense of technology, one fine morning we woke up to find that the whole world’s information is under our finger tips – at the press of a button on the keyboard. The author does not just prove that the world is flat but also goes on to suggest ways to leverage upon this flatness. The author assesses the techno-socio-economic ambience of the future and exhorts nations to take advantage of the increasing flatness by doing four basic things right: right infrastructure, right educational system, right governance and right environment. The author’s creativity in reaching out to the reader comes to the fore when he provides a description of different countries in the world as neighbourhoods of a city, based on their respective characteristics. It not only provides a microcosm of the world but also makes for interesting comparisons. The author introduces the concepts of ‘Coefficient of Flatness,’ and ‘Dell Theory’ which may still be in their infancy but their impact on future studies is beyond doubt. Every issue raised in the book, whether it is policy paralysis on the part of governments or vanilla vocations on the part of individuals, is supported by anecdotal evidence. References range from Australia to Zimbabwe; from Bible to Communist Manifesto; and, from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to Indian Institutes of Technology (IIT) making the book an elaborate, exhaustive and erudite examination of the revolution around us. ‘Bit’ is certainly not a little bit any longer and ‘Byte’ can really bite you if you are ignorant of its strengths. The book is so engrossing that the reader feels as if having a continuous, informal no-holds barred intellectual confrontations and brain-storming battles with a knowledgeable and articulate friend. The ensuing debate is rendered colourful by a sprinkling of punchy one-liners e.g. ‘When you lose your job, the unemployment rate is not 5.2%, it is 100%,’ or ‘If horses could have voted, there never would have been cars.’ To his credit, the author is honest in admitting that even though the flattening process is making rapid strides, the world is yet to be totally flat. In the developing world, flatness has so far led to creation of pockets of excellence beyond which, there are still continents of obscurity in India, China and Africa. People living in these areas, on account of their illiteracy, also believe that the world is flat. However, the sad part is that this belief is literal and not metaphorical. Notwithstanding the breadth and depth of the issues raised, the author effectively gets the message across to the reader – shape up or ship out. The book is an impeccable reservoir of information, insight and intellect. To sum up, one thing that can be vouched for about the book and its author is that the book was not written sitting in the library, or for that matter, in any place with walls. The book was written not just with an open mind but also in an open field on this flat world.