The phrase, The World is Flat, spotlights Friedman’s perspective of competition that has provided a level playing field in many aspects. Now, people can mingle like never before; technology can be updated in no time; goods can be transferred untrammeled across borders. Though there are limitations to a certain level, it is fact that the world is getting shorter, or flatter, in Friedman’s lexicon. In his book, The World is Flat: A Brief History of the 21st Century, Friedman has delineated ten flatteners out of which, I feel, the two deserve explanation at greater length; the collapse of Berlin Wall(The New Age of Creativity: When the Walls Came Down and the Windows Went Up) and outsourcing.
The fall of Berlin wall( November 9, 1989) symbolizes the end of the cold war; the end of communism that paved the way for a more democratic and free world. With this fall, people from erstwhile Soviet empire got the signal to participate in the global economy. The entire Soviet bloc witnessed the end of 40-years old dictatorial communist rule. It led to many political reforms including freedom to visit West Germany and West Berlin.
The event carries a significant place in history; Friedman used it to mark a global shift towards greater social, personal and economic freedom, a move towards free-market economies and democratic governments. Prices, in a free market, are determined by customers’ demand and not by government officials, as was the case with authoritarian governments. Within two years of this revolution, India moved to a free market system thereby soaring the economic growth from 3 to 7 percent per year. Many countries including Romania, Poland, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia enjoyed a period of freedom and openness. Nations that got sovereignty in the East established connections with the West.
The existence of Berlin wall, Friedman argued, acted as an obstacle to seeing the world as a global and unified community/market. Its disintegration projected the world as a significant and unified economic market with level playing field for the players. The open competition began choices for customers and opportunities for producers to fetch the market with quality products.
With walls coming down, Windows went up. Microsoft came up with Windows 3. 0 around six months after the revolution. More user-friendly than earlier versions, it popularized personal computing and lot of other improvements in the interaction between humans and computers. Films were replaced by memory cards; films with electronic files on MP3 players. Friedman called it an age of creativity that eased out the communication among people and made them closer. In one sense, it led to the flattening of the world in psychological and social terms.
Another flattener is outsourcing, i. e., the process of sub-contracting( usually non-core tasks) to a third party to reduce costs and increase quality. For instance, a big concern can hire a financial company to perform accounting and financial operations. It is now achievable to outsource knowledge industry jobs including software development, accounting to the nations having broadband internet connection, and proficiency in English.
Availability of skills at cheaper prices was one of the primary factors that made Asian countries( especially India) a hub of outsourcing. State-of-the-art IIT’s and IIM’s providing quality education to Indian students in fields of computers, science, technology, management and engineering was another feather in the cap. On top of it, India had a high population of English speakers, thanks to the British colonization.
At the outset, US outsourced only semi-skilled tasks including data entry and transcription. Later the fear of Y2K gripped them and they hired hordes of trained Indian programmers to make their software Y2K complaint.
The plant of outsourcing has become a giant tree now. Not only in India, global companies are groping for cheap options elsewhere also to get the task done. Large companies including Wal-Mart, Unilever and others have availed the services of cheap labor in Asian nations. Needless to say, it has led to the blending of developed and developing nations. It is, now, quite common for doctors in The US to send digital X-rays to radiologists in India. Conversely, the technological boom has enabled Indian people to get online help from experts in The US and elsewhere. Be it education, technology, medicine, or any other stream, outsourcing coupled with technological advancement has made the world flat in the real sense.
Friedman has aptly elaborated ten events that have increased the pace of globalization in the last decade. However, little he mentioned about free calling applications that are ruling the roost these days. Though such applications were present a couple of years back, using them was not under the reach of everybody. With a recent addition of WhatsApp calling, the whole perception of communication has changed the world. Simply, talking to someone beyond seven seas has become easier than ever. The result it, further flattening of the world facilitated by the ease of communication and information sharing. Succinctly, technological advancement has just revolutionized the concept of globalization. There is a seamless flow of ideas, thoughts, and cultural dispositions across borders. Gone are the days when children located in The US would call their parents twice a week or on weekends. With advanced technology and updated gadgets at their disposal, they needn’t set any boundary. What can be the more integrating force than this?
I, however, feel that Friedman has not paid enough attention to communications technology, especially free applications for talking across nations. Though these were less prevalent a couple of years back, we can’t assume the life without these down the line. For me, it has led to the world integration in a real sense by obliterating all hassles in communication and information-sharing. If information and communication technological advancement continues with this speed, it will set a new horizon for globalization in the years to come.
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Altermatt, B. (2006). Summary and Excerpts from Thomas Friedman’s The World is Flat.
Friedman, T. L. (2007). The World is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century. Douglas and Mclntyre.
Guske, I., & Swaffield, B. C. (2009). Education Landscapes in the 21st Century: Cross-cultural challenges and multi-disciplinary perspectives. Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars Publishing.