Reflections on Friedman’s book: The World is Flat

Field of the Cloth of Gold, British, 1545

Friedman, T. L. (2007). The world is flat 3.0: A brief history of the twenty-first century.

“Free trade is god’s diplomacy. There is no other certain way of uniting people in the bonds of peace” – Richard Cobden, 1857

Reflection 1. Remote Work, Net Neutrality, and Leadership.

As I write this reflection, I am entering my eleventh week of remote work and quarantine.  Some thoughts that help me through this difficult time are that I am privileged to be able to work remotely and that many organizations have realized that they can allow their people to do so.  My hope is that we may be able to pick up remote workdays as an option in the future (even though I would miss my team and colleagues, like I miss them now).  And while it is a difficult change to flatten organizations and their hierarchies, I hope they continue to flatten and allow those who create value to stay and thrive, while others will find the freedom and the push to create or join other spaces where they may thrive.  I hope this situation will breathe life into people and free them of traditional rat races of the bygone Industrial Age, propelling them into the Social Age.  On the other hand, I fear my position could be culled, although my supervisor is dubious of my concerns.  He believes he cannot run the library without me.  It’s wonderful to feel valued in a time of such uncertainty.

I also hope this pandemic bring about the end of the discussion on net neutrality and its absolutely necessity.  Internet access should be treated as a human right at this step in our cultural and economic evolution.  I would use ecommerce to argue the issue of being paid to work remotely into one economy while spending in another (something that came up recently in my workplace).  In a flat world and outside of spending in the local economy on basic necessities, we Americans spend our money online and in stores where the supply chain includes many stops around the world.  How much does remote work really impact local economies?  Plus, the local economies that sell necessities don’t engage in creative destruction and innovation, so again, does that matter?

In terms of leadership, what about a leader who remotes in while the rest of the team is local and physically together?  This was a point also recently brought up in my workplace.  Many are excited at the idea of having our first faculty member working remotely fulltime, but others are unsure by this person’s abilities.  Some claim the individual lacks training or basic intuitiveness about leadership or management.  In either case, the precedent should be set by a competent person, and I hope higher leadership does not abandon the idea of fulltime remote work should their pilot study failed.  We shall see.

Reflection 2. I Watched the World Flatten From A Privileged Place.

I reflected about when I realized the world was flat.  I remember when global communications were really starting.  I joined the military in 1999 and started out in Reconnaissance and Intelligence where I worked on the Predator drones and Global Hawk.  It opened my eyes to a whole new and smaller world.  VoIP (voice over IP) came into being while I was deployed and it was the most amazing thing I’d ever seen.  Touchscreens and fiber optics came into use in my time served along with 3-D printed weapons and virtual battlefields.  I experienced firsthand an explosion in military technology that had never happened historically. 

As a xennial (b.1980), I grew up in an analog world where we dreamt of this type of tech.  From 18 years old (1998) and into my mid-20s, the technological evolution seemed like a natural progression, and yet it was so unbelievably fast.  By the time I understood one tech we were moving on to the next.  It was an amazing time in be in the US Air Force.

It was really quite cool that the author made the time to visit with all those companies!  The mention of the Palm Pilot was pretty funny as smartphones are yet to exist in this book.  And it was so amusing to have seen all of his predictions come true – even up to video conferencing (I’ve used Zoom almost every day during the pandemic).

Reflection 3. The Anthropologist in Me.

I have a masters in anthropology and I found the discussions about culture fascinating.  The flattening of the world is causing us to question whether culture is important to maintain.  Creating an efficient global workflow and the use of the same technologies may force worldviews to align.  This in turn may create less diversity and thus less options when troubleshooting or creating.  But then again, if we continue with the creative destruction of capitalism, people will find ways to stand out by making improvements.  Plus, flattening has the potential to nourish diversity through uploading their own content (i.e. the globalization of the local) and is a powerful force for the preservation and enhancement of cultural autonomy.  This gives me an idea about technology shaping the culture and vice versa – like a new Sapir-Whorf hypothesis but based on tech and culture rather than language and culture.  However, idealist institutions like politics and religions may fall away in order to allow us to work together (under basic governance), and we would become secular humanists for the sake of species achievement.

Reflection 4. Never Stop Learning.

If you want to be competitive in a flattened global economy, you must never stop learning.  The author states that creativity links to those who have mastered two or more different fields which allows for more lateral thinking.  This made me smile.  Here’s what I have been doing for the last thirty or so years: academic honors, athletics, horse riding (endurance and rodeo), music piano and trumpet), geriatric nursing, electronics communications, intelligence and reconnaissance, Air Force base honor guard, quality assurance, ground safety, liberal arts, science, anthropology, libraries, business, leadership, and recently writer, blogger, and gamer!  I feel better about my many paths.  Freidman states that education begins in a home where reading is valuable and necessary and where recognition of the hard work associated with education and doing well in school are top priorities.  Thank you so much, to my mother and father; I can never repay everything you gave me to survive in the world today.  Great job!

Side note: I call on the video and online games jab in the ambition gap section.  Authors love to take jabs at gaming.  I don’t like Dungeons and Dragons and The Witcher series being tossed in the same bucket as Candy Crush—the generalization of gaming has to stop.  Games, especially those that involve playing with each other, either online or in person, are invaluable tools to teaching all type of skills from teamwork to troubleshooting. Long-term games that ask the individual for moral-based decision-making that impacts their success downstream is valuable!  Epic storytelling is valuable!  (I admit this is a shameful plug for my blog.)

Reflection 5. The Global War on Terrorism and My Hope for America and the World.

It was really difficult to read about the Arab-Muslim world and the Islamic terrorism due to my past military experience with 9/11, Operation Iraqi Freedom, and the Global War on Terrorism.  I have lost faith in the current US administration to keep our economy open and I wonder what exactly I sacrificed for.  Friedman states that when countries tie their economies together it acts like a restraint to going to war and I wish for that more than anything for this flat world.

I believe in responsible freedom.  I believe in worldwide free trade and domestic nuclear power.  I want us to have to think twice before war and be free of foreign energy sources.  I believe live and let live.  I believe in the power of science and a STEM education (make a modern day Space Race of nuclear power!).  I believe in health over wealth, but also that there cannot be health without wealth.  I believe in libertarian governments who make laws only to protect the people’ rights to do what needs to be done to drive themselves up the path to the middle class.  I believe the middle class lifts us all up in our societies.  I believe bipartisan politics is a symptom of a shrinking middle class.  I believe this all starts with leadership built on trust and psychological safety.  And this is where we as individuals can make an impact in this world.  This is where our circle of influences reside.  Choose to be a leader.  Choose to cultivate leaders.

America, I made an investment in you.  I served you, the flat world, and the security of free trade for close to a decade; I almost gave my life for you.  I need you to be responsible with the trust I have given you.  Please don’t throw up walls and give in to protectionism.  Please allow global free trade.  Please allow small and medium business to thrive.  Please build the digital infrastructure and allow net neutrality.  Please fix higher education.  Please fix healthcare.  Please, I really I want the middle class back.  I believe in you.

Please let me know your thoughts by commenting below, thanks!

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