Friday, October 2, 2009

The World is Flat- Part 2 of 6


As I was saying.. 
The collapse of the Berlin Wall most symbolically represented the collapse of the Soviet Empire and Communist rule, after which democracy would become the dominant political system. The contrasting systems both advocate their own economic policies, supposedly aimed at equality, but as Friedman notes, “Communism was a great system for making people equally poor, while Capitalism made people unequally rich” (52). While the wall was toppling down brick by brick, the United States was making large strides in the information revolution, marked by the introduction of the personal computer in 1985.

It is interesting that Friedman separates the various parts of the information revolution as different forces, rather than clustering two or three into one. In the case of the second flattener, the introduction of the first mainstream internet browser, Netscape, the emphasis is on the transformation of a novel technology used exclusively by scientists and computer experts, to a mainstream technology with a user-friendly interface. Netscape made it possible and easier for the average computer novice to access and use the internet. Symbolically, this indicated the beginning of accessible modern innovations which would typically be restricted to academics and government agencies, to the general public. In fact, this increasing transparency of information is evident is confirmed by an officer in Baghdad who lamented the flattening of the military hierarchy. As a result of the ever increasing use of technology and the respective need for people to monitor the technology, more information is available to lower-level officers than was the case before.

After the introduction of an internet browser that makes the Internet a more useful information channel for the public, it is necessary to take technology one step further, to enable changes that further flatten the globe. Workflow software is extremely sophisticated, and seeks to synchronize business processes with the goals of efficiency, labor cost reduction and capital cost reduction in mind. Friedman credits work flow software with “enabling business processes to flow not only between companies, but between continents as well, with an explosion of experimentation and innovation expected to produce many new products and services, as well as a demand for more tailored, proprietary software and IT systems to drive them forward” (91). A great example of this demand and the response in the form of global, interconnected business processes astounds Friedman when he interviews the CEO of an animation studio in San Francisco. The typical animation project starts with design and direction in the San Francisco where the studio is located, the writers’ network in from their homes (Florida, London, New York, Chicago, L.A and San Francisco) and the animation of the characters is done in Bangalore, with edits from San Francisco (79). At this point, Friedman notes that the first three flatteners create a “rudimentary platform” upon which the remaining seven forces emerge.

‘Uploading’, the fourth flattener, is another marker that Friedman uses to emphasize the ever-increasing accessibility of the Internet’s capabilities to global consumers. While the Internet provided connectivity, and Netscape allowed users to design, display, and manage data, the ‘uploading’ milestone marked the balancing of the producer/consumer scale in terms of information. Where most users had been consumers, utilizing the tools that were presented them on the web, uploading tipped the scale so that consumers could become producers of media as well, uploading their own content to share with their global neighbors. Both in the western world and in Asia’s up and coming countries, this transition has been fronted by malleable and tech-savvy youth. The residual flattening forces represent the tremendous changes in the manufacturing, human resources, and information arenas, each one heralded by a particular country or even company. 

China, the leading beneficiary in both outsourcing and off-shoring, has manufacturing advantages said to have benefited U.S. consumers in the form of billions of dollars in cost savings, and benefiting the Federal Reserve by helping it keep interest rates down longer, thus allowing more capital into the economy. It is unfathomable that China can have such effects on the American economy but these are just the effects of a flatter world; the more we communicate and create inter-dependent social, economic and political systems,, the more it seems, we are likely to sneeze and contaminate another country with our cold.

More Friedman


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