Chapter One Summary
The first chapter in the book “The World is Flat” by Thomas Friedman begins with a journal entry by Christopher Columbus when he set out West hoping to land on the Indian subcontinent. Friedman compares this journey by Columbus to his own exploration which made him head east to India in search of the source of wealth for the country in the present day.
His journey leads him to Bangalore which is considered India’s Silicon Valley and he hopes to explore the place so as to gain a better understanding of why India had become an important pool for the outsourcing of service and information technology work for many industrialized countries.
Friedman set out on his expedition with the assumption that the world was round but his discoveries in India made him conclude that the world is flat. This conclusion was made following his encounter with Nandan Nilekani who is the CEO of Infosys Technologies Limited.
Nilekani explains that as a result of the massive investments made in technology, it is possible for any piece of work to be segmented with parts being done in different countries all over the world. The CEO sums up his thoughts by declaring that “the playing field is being leveled” (Friedman 7).
By this, he means that the global competitive playing field was becoming leveled as people had greater opportunities to collaborate and compete in real time thanks to computers, email, networks, teleconferencing, and dynamic new software (Friedman 8) This flattening of the world is viewed by Nilekani as a positive development and a major accomplishment in human progress since it provides great opportunity for all.
While the flattening of the world is a positive thing since it means that all the knowledge centers on the world are not connected din a single global network, and this can lead to innovation and prosperity for many. However, this flattening is also negative since it makes it easy for terrorist networks and other disgruntled groups to collaborate and increase the efficiency with which they inflict damage to society.
The author notes that the flattening of the world had taken place while his focus was on other things. The journey to India revealed to him that globalization had gone to a new level. Friedman divides the globalization phenomena into three major eras. The first era denoted as Globalization 1.0 started in 1492 following Columbus voyage to 1800 and it led to the opening trade between the Old and the New World.
The second era, Globalization 2.0 lasted from 1800 to 2000 and it was characterized by the emergence and prevalence of multinational companies. The third era, Globalization 3.0 started in 2000 and this era has the unique character of “newfound power for individuals to collaborate and compete globally” (Friedman 10).
In Bangalore, India, Friedman has an encounter with Jerry who informs him that he can handle his tax returns. He goes on to elaborate that there was an explosion in the outsourcing of tax preparation with Indian accountants being able to do outsourced accounting work from any state in America. Jerry contends that outsourcing is positive since it takes away the grunt work which requires little creativity and enables Americans to focus on designing creative complex strategies.
Friedman reveals that outsourcing is not only limited to accounting and call centers but also to journalism. The world renowned news organization Reuters is also a pioneer in outsourcing of some elements of the news supply chain. This outsourcing is necessitated by the need for efficiency and a reduction in costs of operation.
The Reuters staff outsourced in India are able to provide high quality work for a fraction of what the staff in Western capitals is paid. Tom Glocer, the CEO of Reuters explains that if the company is to survive and thrive, it must move work to where it can be done most efficiently and at the most competitive cost. He says that the staff at Reuters understands that outsourcing, which has led to some job loses in the Western world, is inevitable if the company is to survive.
Friedman illustrates the working of an Indian call center after spending an evening at one 24/7 customer call center in Bangalore. The call centers deal with “outbond” operators who sell products and services and “inbound” operators who provide assistance to customers of the company whose phone support they are providing.
The call center industry employs over 240,000 Indians, offering relatively high pay and opportunities to advance their careers. This has made the call center jobs very competitive in India and hundreds of new applicants apply for the call center jobs each day.
Another service that has been outsourced to Indian labor is personal assistants. “Remote executive assistants” are available to busy global executives for a considerable fee of $1,500 to $2,000 a month. These assistants are able to do research on behalf of the executive as well as many other services which the busy executive might not have time for.
To further investigate if the world is flat, Friedman ventures further East to Japan. Here he interviews Kenichi Ohmae who is spearheading an outsourcing firm. Japan outsources to China where labor if relatively cheaper. This outsourcing is possible since there are a number of Japanese speakers in China and hence recruiting is easy.
Here the author discovers that the northeastern port city of Dalian in china is the outsourcing central for Japan. Here major companies such as Microsoft, Dell, HP and Sony outsource some of their tasks so as to support their Asian operations. The biggest motivation for outsourcing to Dalian is financial as can be seen from the low cost of Chinese software engineers in comparison to Japanese ones (Friedman 34).
While outsourcing by the Japanese was primarily focused on data processing industries, it has grown to include Research and Development and software development and western countries such as the US are now trying to move outsourcing to the Chinese cities. The trend towards outsourcing is summed up by a communist official as “if somewhere has the richest human resources and the cheapest labor, of course the enterprises and the businesses will naturally go there” (Friedman 37)
Friedman also looks at how the mode of running business is changing in the West. He reveals that a low-fare airline called JetBlue makes use of housewives who work form home to man its entire reservation system.
The author also discusses how the military playing field has been leveled by low ranking officers being given access to information that makes it possible for them to make decisions concerning the information they gather. To illustrate his point, he explains how information is gathered by a soldier from a Predator drone which is flying over an Iraqi village.
This drone is being flown by an expert in the Nellis Air Force Base in Las Vegas and the real time information it transmits is simultaneously watched by the soldiers in Iraq, the Pentagon and even the CIA. This results in a flattening of the military hierarchy by availing a lot of information to the low-level officer and therefore transforming the traditional military structure.
In his home at Maryland, Friedman discovers that the flattening of the world is also occurring there. An example of this is the taking of orders though call centers by McDonald restaurants and this results in increased efficiency as well as a reduction in the number of errors in the orders made.
The speed and reliability of telecommunication lines is what has made this use of call centers in restaurant attractive and possible. The signs of the flattening of the world were not purely economic and Friedman reveals that the mode of operation by reporters has changed drastically. Now reports can use low-cost technology and the internet to break news to a large and interactive audience with great efficiency.
Friedman concludes the chapter by noting that the role of the individual has been significantly changed by the flattening of the world. He declares that whenever civilizations have undergone major changes, the world has changed in profound ways. It can therefore be expected that major changes will occur due to the flattening of the world and it is essential for people to be prepared to absorb these changes in a manner that results in maximum benefit.
In my opinion, Friedman’s comparison of his adventure with that of the renowned 15th century explorer Christopher Columbus is apt since both of them came up with discoveries that were both monumental. Unlike Columbus who discovers that the world is round, Friedman discovers that the world is flattening and he proposes to explain how through his book.
I find Friedman’s focus on China and India as he gives his examples of how the world is flattening especially appropriate. This is because these are the countries with the world’s largest populations and both countries are experiencing economic growths that are very high as a result of the flattening of the world.
The use of many examples from the business world to reinforce points is an attribute that I found very helpful in the chapter. Friedman makes use of many examples from the real world help to strengthen his argument that the world is flattening. These examples are solid and they help a person to see the impacts that the forces of globalization are having in the world today.
In my view, Friedman provides a balanced view of the impacts that the flattening of the world may have. This is because while he notes that the connectedness offered by the internet and the computer gives people the ability to collaborate and share information, it also allows terrorists to collaborate and spread terror on previously unprecedented scales.
He also addresses both the positive and negative aspects of outsourcing which is becoming a prevalent practice in many industries. He notes that while efficiency and cost effectiveness is achieved through outsourcing, it also leads to the loss of jobs for people in the western world.
Friedman does not make adequate use of expert opinions from researchers in the field of globalization to reinforce his claims. Instead, he extensively relies on the opinion of the individuals who he interviews throughout the chapter. In my opinion, this reliance on the opinion of individuals reduces the credibility of the views expressed by Friedman since individual opinion is mostly biased and cannot be taken as fact.
Another setback I found with Friedman’s work is that he focused primarily on the top business leaders of the world to reinforce his claim that the world is flat. His argument that the our world is increasingly converging is supported by interviews of major leaders such as Bill Gates, Kenichi Ohmae, Tom Glocer, and Nandan Nilekani to name but a few. In my opinion, this does not provide a complete picture of the issue since if the world is in deed flattening; the proof should be obtained from a wider range of society members.
In conclusion, I found Friedman’s recognition that the flattening of the world was unstoppable as very perceptive. He demonstrates that these forces cannot be stopped and the best that way of dealing with the changes is to adapt accordingly so as to benefit the most from this phenomenal.
The insights provided by Friedman in this chapter help a person to better understand how the flattening of the world is occurring. He provides the lens through which a person can make sense of what is happening in the word today. From his writing, I was able to appreciate the changes which new communication technologies and business strategies have caused all over the world.
Friedman, Thomas. The World Is Flat a Brief History of the Twenty-first Century. NY: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2005. Print.